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EFSAS Commentary

Statement of Pakistani Minister on the Kartarpur corridor exposes the elemental dysfunctionality of the Pakistani State


The opening of the Kartarpur corridor on 9 November was a positive development, one that ignited the hope that two sworn arch rivals could actually concur and coact on a matter related to faith without getting entrapped within the narrowness that skewed appreciation of religious differences oftentimes leads to. Amid bleak times in the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan, the event was a rare and welcome aberration that merited celebration and building upon to benefit the people of the two countries. EFSAS, in its Article of 28-11-2019, 'A flicker of light at the end of Kartarpur Corridor', had described it as “a ray of light”, and that is exactly what the opening of the corridor was until the thoughtless, tactless and damaging statement of a Pakistani minister needlessly and carelessly dissipated a considerable proportion of the optimism that Kartarpur had generated and exposed not only the closeted Pakistani intentions behind opening the corridor but also how dysfunctional the Pakistani State had become. 

Pakistani Federal Minister for Railways, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, who is also a close aide of Prime Minister Imran Khan, told reporters in Lahore on 30 November that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor was the brainchild of Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, adding that the corridor would hurt India forever. Rasheed left little to the mind’s eye while saying that “India will remember forever the kind of wound inflicted on it by General Bajwa by opening the Kartarpur corridor. General Bajwa strongly hit India by opening the corridor. Through this project, Pakistan has created a new environment of peace and won itself love of the Sikh community”

One can only wonder what Rasheed sought to achieve by making such a statement, as strategically his divisive and aggressive words made little sense. If anything, they were highly counterproductive for Pakistan’s cause. Pakistan could potentially have harnessed the opening of the corridor as a statement of intent and magnanimity in its relationship with India. It could also have projected this to the international community, a majority of whose members currently hold a negative view of Pakistan on account of its history of promotion of international terrorism, its proliferation of nuclear weapon technology and materials, and the like. Rasheed, through his statement, has driven these possibilities into the turf and turned the tables around. He has given India the opportunity to now claim forcefully that Pakistan, just as India has been saying all along, simply cannot be trusted; its intentions behind even what it ostensibly does for the better are always suspect; and that Pakistan’s true calling has been, and continues to be, to inflict wounds upon India.     

The Indian position was articulated by Captain (Retired) Amarinder Singh, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Punjab, where a vast majority of the country’s Sikhs reside. In a sharp retort on 1 December, Singh said that as a Sikh he was extremely happy at the opening of the corridor as it would enable access to Indian devotees to the Kartarpur Gurdwara. He, however, reminded that even prior to the opening he had maintained all along that “the threat it posed to our country could not be ignored”. Singh stressed that the Pakistani Minister had completely exposed the evil designs of Pakistan behind the corridor, which India had hoped would emerge as a bridge of peace between the two nations. Singh termed Rasheed’s statement as an open and blatant threat to India's security and integrity, and asserted that India would never let Pakistan fulfil its “despicable ambitions”. He added, “Don't make the mistake of reading weakness in our gratitude for the opening of the corridor”. Singh warned that India would give a befitting response of the kind that Pakistan “would never be able to survive” to any attempt by Pakistan to attack India’s borders or its people. 

Singh also expressed serious reservations about the Pakistani Army Chief being the person responsible for the decision to open the corridor, and not the elected Prime Minister, as should have been the case in a country that purports to be a democracy. Singh said, “This had been quite evident from various facts, most notably that General Bajwa had disclosed the Pakistani decision to build the corridor to then Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu at the time of Imran Khan's swearing-in ceremony (as Prime Minister). Imran had not even taken over then, yet their Army Chief had spoken about this to Sidhu. How was it possible unless Bajwa was the one behind the corridor decision?” Singh averred that the Army Chief taking such a decision lent a security dimension to it and sprouted doubts and misgivings. 

The perversity of the dynamics of governance in Pakistan was laid starkly bare by Rasheed. What he implicitly confirmed through his statement was the widely held view in Pakistan that Imran Khan was a ‘selected’ (as opposed to elected) Prime Minister who was firmly under the thumb of the authority that ‘selected’ him, the Army Chief, and that Khan was merely a rubber stamp for the decisions that the Army Chief dictated to him. It could have been more understandable if the statement made by Rasheed came from a man in uniform. However, for an elected representative, a Federal Minister, and a close aide of the Prime Minister, to credit, without batting an eyelid, the Army Chief and not his boss, the Prime Minister, for the most meaningful decision taken in recent times to improve relations with India, speaks volumes about the nature and scope of dysfunction in the Pakistani State, as also about how hollow and distorted its ‘democracy’ is. 

There was a remarkable lack of sensitivity and an obtuse uncouthness that was on clear display when Rasheed made the statement. He demeaned what was being viewed as a laudable step by Pakistan, and irresponsibly inducted security and politics into what was essentially an issue of religious faith for millions of Sikhs. Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the President of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, in a series of tweets accused Pakistan of backstabbing the Sikhs and “exploiting the holiest land Sri Kartarpur Sahib & Sikh sentiments”. He urged “PM @ImranKhanPTI to issue a statement clarifying the intention of @ShkhRasheed’s words. And if Rasheed’s statement is just a brag, PM Imran Khan should take strict action against his motormouth Minister for hurting Sikh faith with his insensitivity”. Rasheed also totally belied Pakistan’s earlier claim that Prime Minister Imran Khan had decided to open the corridor as a good faith initiative with India. Neither Imran Khan nor the Army Chief have so far condemned or contradicted Rasheed’s statement, or indeed rebuked him. 

Rasheed’s suggestion that by opening the corridor Pakistan had won over the Indian Sikh community is as provocative as it is mischievous. Just why that should be important for Pakistan is moot, and the crux of the problem lies therein. As per figures released by the Pakistani government’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), there were a mere 6,146 Sikhs registered in Pakistan in 2012. This figure has seen an upward revision since, but nowhere near enough to suggest that Sikhs constitute anywhere close to even 1 percent of the Pakistani population. Sikhs therefore are a fringe group in the Pakistani scheme of things, one that should possess neither the clout nor any intention to take up any Sikh cause larger than their own survival as a miniscule minority in Pakistan, especially given the country’s abysmal record in the treatment of its minorities. 

Pakistan, however, in pursuit of its long held policy of destabilizing India through all means fair and foul, including the setting up, training, nurturing, and unleashing of terrorist groups of all hues against India, has as a conscious strategy provided shelter to any and all fugitive Sikh militants that have managed to reach the country’s shores to evade the Indian judicial system. Most of these Sikh militants, including Wadhawa Singh of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Lakhbir Singh Rode of International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Paramjit Singh Panjwar of Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) and Harmeet Singh Happy of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), among others, have been guilty of committing serious crimes in India, with almost all of them having blood on their hands. For Pakistan that matters little. It views these Sikh militants as valuable assets who can, despite the law of diminishing returns kicking in over time, stoke unrest in the Indian state of Punjab as they had done in the 1980s in the heyday of the Khalistan movement. With Pakistan’s options in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) being on the wane, reports suggest that it is increasingly attempting to shift the focus to Punjab. Pakistan’s sponsorship of the ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign by an organization called Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) that demands a separate Sikh State is also a move in this direction. 

Rasheed’s statement illustrates that Pakistan has chosen to disregard the reality underlined in the aforementioned EFSAS Article that the idea of Khalistan today has practically no takers, and that less than 1 percent of Sikhs worldwide have interest of any sort in it. Rasheed has, in essence, robbed Pakistan of the higher ground that it could have stood on after unilaterally offering and subsequently providing its territory to Indian pilgrims despite the severe strains in bilateral relations. 

He has, thus, once again provided evidence that a dysfunctional State often coexists with myopia and delusion.