The Kartarpur corridor has now opened. For the Sikh community it is a blessing and that too coinciding with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The initial demand for the corridor had been proposed by PM Vajpayee during his historic Lahore Yatra. Pak’s sudden announcement on opening the corridor was a diplomatic coup from their side. No Indian Government could reject the offer, despite any misgivings, as it would hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community. Pak played to religious sentiments and left the Indian Government with no option.
The foundation stone ceremony for the corridor in Pakistan, in Nov 2018, had Gopal Singh Chawla, a known Khalistan proponent present. He was shown meeting General Bajwa and Navjot Singh Sidhu, who also attended on an invite from Imran. Posters at the Gurdwara included those of Gopal Singh Chawla and the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), an organization which seeks to push forth a referendum in 2020, for an independent Khalistan. Inputs indicate that many pro-Khalistan leaders would be present during the celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary this week.
It was visualized by the western world that this gesture of the Pak Government could be an initial step in normalizing relations with India. It would have been, had Pak not decided to open the corridor for their own interests, ignoring the strong religious significance of the corridor. It was evident that the decision for opening the corridor was taken not by Imran, but by Bajwa, as the initial announcement was made by Sidhu after attending the swearing in of Imran, well before Imran would have the authority to take this decision.
Sidhu was made a pawn by the Pak deep state as on return from Imran’s swearing in, he jumped to announce the corridor. He failed to realize the game even after he met Gopal Chawla at the foundation stone ceremony. He continues to be moving on the same track by attending the inauguration ceremony and praising Imran profusely, as if he took the decision.
However, from the outset, Pak had ulterior motives. Pak began showing its true colours and intentions behind opening the corridor as the date for its opening came close. The official welcome video for the pilgrims, contains a clip of Khalistan leaders including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, General Shahbeg Singh and Amrik Singh Khalsa, all of whom were killed as part of Operation Bluestar in 1984. It has also displayed an aircraft bomb, claiming it was dropped by the Indian air force in 1971 targeting the Gurdwara.
Pak’s intention was twofold, boost the Khalistan movement, propagators of which are also based in Pakistan and create an internal divide. Pak ISI has unsuccessfully tried to link the Khalistan movement with terrorism in J and K, thereby giving a boost to both and impacting India’s internal security. It has taken this approach as its Kashmir supported terrorism is slowly being pushed back by strong Indian actions.
Recently there were reports of Pak employing drones to drop weapons in Punjab. The Punjab Government has been working overtime to break multiple sleeper cells in the state linked to the Khalistan movement. Intelligence reports also mention that terrorist training camps have been opened in the vicinity of the Kartarpur Gurdwara.This opening of terrorist camps has multiple benefits. Any Indian strike in this area could lead to closure of the corridor, which would hurt the Sikh community and Khalistan activists could also be trained here. Pak is also supporting organizations like the SFJ which would attempt to influence Sikh visitors to register for the referendum scheduled next year. It is known that over 10,000 members of the group based in the US and Canada would be present throughout the celebrations and interact with visitors from India seeking to influence them.
While majority of those using the corridor would be devout Sikhs with no interest in anything other than religion, there would be few whom Pak would attempt to influence. While smuggling of arms may not be possible, due to size of weapons and security measures, there are other avenues which would be exploited. It could be used for sending of drugs, Punjab already has a major drug problem, fake currency and for conveying messagesfrom the ISI and their cells in Punjab.
More importantly, it could become a place of contact between the propagators of Khalistan and some of their supporters in Punjab. This could then be employed to drive a wedge between the Sikh community in the state. This is what has been worrying the Indian Government, but it has limited options.
The Indian Government has always been distrustful of Pak’s motives in suddenly accepting this demand from India. It is aware that the Pak deep state has no interest in improving relations with India and seeking to resolve issues by talks and the opening of the corridor is aimed at anything but that.
The intentions within Pak is evidently to exploit the corridor to drive a wedge between the community, propagate the Khalistan dream and smuggle drugs and fake currency. The ISI would also be closely watching those who attend the events, seeking possible supporters and spies whom it could subsequently employ for their advantage.
However, Pak may be in for a surprise. Most who would use the corridor to visit the Gurdwara are devout Sikhs for whom the religious pilgrimage is more important than any other ulterior design. The state and central government, aware of Pak’s designs would be prepared for such Pak misadventures. While the corridor would require additional monitoring and security checks, it is an essential religious pilgrimage, which must continue despite any threat.
Pak, which could have done its role sincerely and moved forward bilateral relations to the advantage of its own economy and security, has adopted a reverse model, evident by its actions at Kartarpur. It has played on religious sentiment, hoping to break the Indian national fabric. India would thus need to be alert to Pak’s plans.
The author is Major General (Retd)