What did Pakistan gain from the Kartarpur initiative?

Posted originally to CRSS on 15 June 2019.

Pakistan’s decision late last year to build the visa-free Kartarpura Corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims received much positivity as a noble peace gesture. It was also undeniably a peace gesture taken by Pakistan and not a nefarious act of subterfuge.

Such a description of the move seems apt, until, however, one brings into the context of Pakistan’s geopolitical and geostrategic realities, following which it makes little practical sense. The peace gesture was made toward Pakistan’s traditional, historical and (regardless of how some in Pakistan delude themselves into thinking otherwise) ideological foe. It also came despite no change in India’s hostile attitude to Pakistan.

In what turned out to be an emphatic emphasis of the futility of the ‘peace gesture’ and the nonexistent gains it brought Pakistan, India triggered a military escalation a few months later. While Pakistan emerged the clear victor on the military front, the Kashmir escalation nonetheless demonstrated that the Kartarpura initiative had achieved nothing with regard to de-escalating tensions.

Also exposed by the Kartarpura initiative was the obliviousness of the Pakistani government, occupied for the first time by the PTI party fresh off election victory toward the immediate political atmosphere in India. The months leading up to Indian elections are well known within Pakistan for the amplified anti-Pakistan rhetoric and the initiative could not realistically achieve anything in such an atmosphere even if its planners considered only and purely election-based euphora in India as a factor.

Let alone gauging solely the elections euphoria accurately – as if such even required an effort given how visible the public mood of a country as large as India is at all times – the PTI government also missed the bigger picture regarding the progression of India’s hostility.

India has historically been more military aggressive under Congress party leaderships. It has even, in stark contrast to the BJP whose more clear-cut hostility is arguably bizarrely beneficial for Pakistan, launched state-funded soft-power programmes inside Pakistan in the past. The ‘Aman ki Asha’ scheme seeking to invalidate in the minds of Pakistanis the Two Nation Theory came side by side with enthusiastic Indian covert, political and media support for Baloch separatism and insistence that Kashmir was a case of state versus terrorism as opposed to a freedom struggle against a tyrannical occupying force.

This also renders as failed attempts by no shortage of Pakistani pundits to portray India’s hostility – rooted in ideological Hindu supremacist hatred of Pakistan and serious enough that it can unto itself produce armed confrontations -as simply part of BJP-induced election euphoria.

Some might have suggested that the Kartarpura initiative had a hidden strategic component and sought to signal Pakistani support to Sikh separatist ambitions. However, this seems unlikely given the apparent shunning by the government of pro-Pakistan UK-based Khalistan activists who sought to hold peaceful rallies in Pakistan for their cause in April. In keeping with Imran Khan’s prior acquiescence of the weak yet virulently hostile Kabul regime’s demands in declining to meet the Afghan Taliban upon the latter’s request, it seemed the chain of post-Kartarpura futile peace gestures toward hostile states was still in implementation.

One might explain away the initiative as having been a calculated move intended to act as a crescendo of Pakistani generosity and cause the stark contrast between it and India’s Hindu supremacism-based hostility to sway the ‘international community’. Stipulating what, practically, this would further achieve however becomes a more difficult task. Regardless of the praise generated for Pakistan during the February-March escalation itself, no country singled out India for its undeniable role in starting the whole affair and thus the Kartarpura initiative had evidently not achieved for Pakistan any tangible support from the ‘international community’.

India’s rising Hindutva-based hostility to Pakistan which produced the escalation is not a new phenomenon, either, as any look into the domestic trail of religiously-motivated anti-Muslim terrorism and pogroms led by the RSS-BJP since the 1960s will reveal.

To thus miss both the progression of the region’s most profoundly anti-Pakistan school of thought as well as misread the absolute and currently crystal-clear zenith of Hindutvadi hostility represents a severe shortcoming of the Pakistani leadership. The Kartarpur initiative achieved naught, and the timing of its proposal within both the context of immediate circumstances prevailing between India and Pakistan as well as the broader scope of Indo-Pak history stood out as awkward and misplaced.

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