Pakistan’s Khalistani agenda over Kartarpur corridor is clear; India has sleepwalked into a national security nightmare

  • Addressing the religious sentiments of Sikhs over a sensitive issue such as Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is understandable, what isn't is the unseemly haste with which India acted on this project that has crucial geopolitical and security ramifications

  • Despite ample evidence that the Kartarpur corridor lies at the heart of Pakistan's devious plan to intensify its asymmetric war against India, India has seemingly been convinced by the proclamation of Pakistan that it will not allow any anti-India activity over the corridor

  • In an official video (released on social media), Pakistan included pictures of slain Khalistani leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh Khalsa and Major General (dismissed) Shabeg Singh

  • Besides, despite India having shared the names of pilgrims who will undertake the journey, Pakistan is delaying the confirmation

  • Pakistan has also has not allowed an advance team from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib to confirm the arrangements made, and critical details like medical facilities and security arrangements have not been shared with the Indian side

On Kartarpur corridor, India’s cherubic gullibility is matched only by Pakistan’s low cunningness. It is difficult to believe the way New Delhi has let itself be blindfolded and sleepwalked into a national security nightmare over the holiest Sikh shrine. This writer and many other commentators have repeatedly warned the government that a perfidious Pakistan may use this opportunity to put into action one of its long-standing fantasies — giving a second wind to the Khalistani separatist movement. But it seems better sense is no match for political expediency.

The fear is, having rushed into the trap laid by Pakistan, we shall get ample time to regret. And the blame for this howler lays squarely at the door of the NDA government that is helmed by a “strong” leader and claims to be “big” on national security. The ironies are many.

 Pakistan’s Khalistani agenda over Kartarpur corridor is clear; India has sleepwalked into a national security nightmare

Sikh devotees leave for Pakistan via Attari-Wagah border to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. PTI

The Khalistani separatist movement posed one of the greatest security and political challenges for the State. While dimensions of the problem have been contained, it hasn’t entirely ceased to exist. Rekindling the Khalistani movement, that seeks to carve a Khalistan out of India based on Sikh religious identity, is both a wet dream and an unfinished project for Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

As ORF's Samir Saran and Sushant Sareen write in an article: "The Pakistanis have tried assiduously to incite and instigate Sikh communities in Canada, Germany, Australia, the US and the UK, with a view to forging a common front among the Kashmiri diaspora. These efforts have not received much traction. But the Kartarpur ‘googly’ — the evocative description given by the Pakistani foreign minister to describe Imran Khan’s gambit — could bring about that ill-conceived 'axis of disaffection'...."

It is here that the pilgrimage corridor gives Pakistani deep state the perfect opportunity to hammer away at one of India’s strategic vulnerabilities by unleashing the Khalistani malcontents under the alibi of Sikh religious sentiment. It also won’t harm Pakistan’s cause to project this corridor as an example of its "goodwill" towards India even at a time when the relationship between the neighbours is going through its lowest ebb. It gives Pakistan, which remains in diplomatic isolation, some badly needed brownie points on the international stage.

It won’t be long before western liberal media starts peddling Pakistan’s latest propaganda — that while India has betrayed Pakistan over Kashmir, Islamabad has still gone on to develop a peace corridor between the two nations. In other words, in one fell swoop, Kartarpur corridor gives Pakistan the opportunity to reverse the narrative and paint India as the aggressor and spoiler of bilateral ties.

The most confounding part of the Kartarpur puzzle is the way India has reacted to Pakistan’s proposal. It has had enough intelligence on Pakistan’s double game. As an article in Times of India quotes a source within India’s intelligence establishment as saying, “We have confirmed reports that Pakistan’s ISI had allotted management of a few gurdwaras to militants who have now been shifted to safe havens but we suspect that they will meet and try to provoke gullible pilgrims at Kartarpur.”

In fact, on 14 July, 2019, an Indian delegation handed over a 23-page dossier to Islamabad that detailed the way pro-Khalistan groups have had a free run within Pakistan and how their activities have increased manifold since 2018. The dossier also pointed out, according to reports, how radical Sikh separatist groups had set up a Khalistan stage at the Nankana Sahib on 14 November. 2018, during the celebration of Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday and lists the attendees that included radical leaders Avtar Singh Sanghera, Manmohan Singh Bajaj, Tara Singh, Joga Singh, Satinder Pal Singh and Gopal Singh Chawala. The dossier reportedly shared pictures of Chawla meeting 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed.

While there is ample evidence on ground that Pakistan is trying to galvanise the Kashmiri and Khalistani separatist movements to intensify its asymmetric war against India and has focused its efforts in creating a pilgrimage corridor that lies at the heart of this devious plan, India has seemingly been convinced by Pakistan’s innocent proclamation that it will not allow any anti-India activity over the corridor. It is difficult to decide whether we should laugh or cry over India’s gullibility.

Little wonder that as we come close to the opening of the corridor on Saturday, Pakistan has started working its propaganda machinery coupled with dog whistling to achieve its agenda. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling party helmed by its prime minister Imran Khan, has started claiming that Khan — who issues threat of nuclear war against India on UN forums — is an apostle of peace. So much so that even ordinary Indians are enamoured of him.

Even as it indulged in a giant PR exercise over the corridor, Pakistan couldn’t resist dog-whistling to suit its Khalistani agenda by including in an official video (released on social media) pictures of slain Khalistani leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh Khalsa and Major General (dismissed) Shabeg Singh. All these radical Sikh separatists were killed during Operation Blue Star in June 1984.

It wasn’t as if this came as a surprise to India. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former Pakistan army chief, has quite openly said that Kartarpur corridor shall be used to reignite the Khalistani movement since terror ‘jihad’ is the only way to “teach India a lesson”.

We have had Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh repeatedly warning the government of ISI’s “hidden agenda” over Kartarpur. Reacting to the video clip that features slain Khalistani leaders, Congress leader Singh said that it exposes ISI’s true intent. “On the one hand, they are seemingly showing us compassion and humanity, and on the other, they seem intent on using the corridor to woo the Indian Sikhs to promote the ISI-backed 2020 Khalistan Referendum and creating sleeper cells here,” he was quoted as saying.

India’s official reaction to Pakistan’s dog-whistling catches the way it has willfully suspended its disbelief. Government sources were quoted as telling the media that “we have conveyed through diplomatic channels our objection over the video put out by the Pakistan Press Information Department and reminded them that the propagation of the images of Sikh terrorists is against the spirit of the corridor” as if the bureaucratic statement will force ISI to suspend its Khalistani agenda.

Not just the Khalistani question, Pakistan has deliberately kept vague and confusing the modalities and operational details of the corridor. The MoU clearly mentions that all names must be cleared four days before the first ‘jatha’ (batch) of pilgrims take off for the journey through the corridor. Despite India sharing the names of pilgrims who will undertake the journey, Pakistan is delaying the confirmation, has not allowed an advance team from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib to confirm the arrangements made, and critical details like medical facilities and security arrangements have not been shared with the Indian side.

Besides, while Khan made a grandiose declaration that Kartarpur pilgrims will be able to travel with any valid ID — the MoU expressly mentions this — on Thursday, Pakistan Army said the Indian devotees using the Kartarpur corridor will need to produce a passport, leading to confusion among those keen to travel. These pressure points are created deliberately by Pakistan. The issue is why has India not shown the necessary alacrity and prudence to clarify these modalities before jumping on to the bandwagon.

This points to the unfortunate reason behind all such ill-thought-out initiatives — political expediency. Addressing the religious sentiments of Sikhs over a sensitive issue is understandable. What isn’t, is the unseemly haste with which India acted on this project that has crucial geopolitical and security ramifications. One hopes that fears over Kartapur corridor will be unfounded, but it is a pity if national security is reliant on hope, not action.

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Updated Date: Nov 07, 2019 17:27:30 IST