The Widening Schism between the Tiger and the Markhor

Although intended to be a symbol of newfound peace, construction on the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, which connects the Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India and the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan is deteriorating into a source of conflict between Pakistan and India. India has proposed talks to be held between July 11 and July 14 talks to mull over the finer points of the Corridor. 

The Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib is said to be the site where the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, died, making it a sacred location within the Sikh community. In February of 1999, the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor was proposed by former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as part of his peace initiative with Pakistan. In 2000, Pakistan attempted to meet India halfway by allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the shrine without a passport or a visa and commencing construction on a bridge connecting the Indian border and the shrine. Although mutual efforts towards the construction of the corridor stalled for the next decade, in the midst of heightened tensions over Kashmir, Punjabi minister Navjot Sidhu reported in August, 2018 that Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had committed the Pakistani government to opening the Kartarpur corridor in time for Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary, which will take place in November of this year. Last year, on November 26 and November 28 respectively, Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone of the Indian side of the corridor, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of Pakistani side of the corridor. 

However, since these showings of good faith, progress on the Corridor has been slow-moving and riddled with controversy and disagreement. There are several technical aspects of the Corridor that have become sources of conflict. President of the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee, Sardar Manjinder Singh Sirsa, has written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan asking for the Pakistani government to allow at least 5,000 visitors daily; however, sources say that the Pakistani government remains adamant on maintaining a daily cap of 700 visitors. Furthermore, Pakistan has yet to respond to Mr. Sirsa’s request to permit the entry of 10,000 visitors on special religious days and has refused to grant access to groups of fewer than 15 members, travelers who made the trip by foot, or Indian foreign citizens. The Pakistan government has also expressed serious reservations and anger over the fact that out of the 5 kilometer total length of the Kartarpur Corridor, 4.5 kilometers fall on the Pakistani side. In response to Pakistani outrage over the supposed uneven distribution of work, Supreme Akali Dal (SAD) Minister Sukhbir Badal accused Pakistan of creating difficulties and problems for the project stating that "Pakistan is claiming much work, but the reality is that it is constructing a mere causeway.” 

In addition to these sources of disagreement, the brutal February Pulwama attack, which resulted in the death of 40 Indian Central Reserve Policeman, has escalated tensions to new heights. The nature of the bombing itself, specifically its connections to the Pakistani government-funded seperatist movement Jaish-e-Mohammed based out of Kashmir, has sparked serious concerns within the Indian government over Pakistan’s decision to appoint a leading Khalistani separatist, Gopal Singh Chawla, to the Pakistani committee residing over the Kartarpur project. The Indian government has publicly expressed fears about the use of the Corridor by the Khalistan movement to penetrate India.

Despite rising tensions between India and Pakistan surrounding the future of the Corridor, many remain hopeful about its timely completion, the positive effects it will have on local communities, and the outcomes of the upcoming July negotiations. In the wake of the Pulwama attacks Minister Sidhu asked “Why should a corridor of peace be overshadowed by an act of miscreants?” Dera Baba Nanak municipal committee president Perneet Singh took this one step further, openly acknowledging that “this project can bring peace to the region.” 

However, many top officials and analysts remain adamant that it “would be wrong” to suggest that negotiations over the Corridor will be “the next step was a peace process.” Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, emphasized this point, stating that the upcoming negotiations do not necessarily mean that "bilateral dialogue will start… the moment Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, bilateral dialogue can start."

Although in no way the beginning of renewed bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan, a mutual consensus during the upcoming negotiations could bring the two countries one step closer to fixing the widening schism between them and would serve as a symbol of hope for the possibility of peace in the future.