Kartarpur Corridor – should there be cause for concern?

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Typical of the habit of brushing news under the carpet after 7-10 days, Kartarpur Corridor is off the electronic media radar after Navjot Singh Sidhu’s theatrics, Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s ‘googly’ dealt a cross-border sixer by EAM Sushma Swaraj, and Congress High Command directing Punjab Government not to discuss Sidhu’s conduct, leave aside sack him from cabinet. Sidhu sheepishly made late pronouncement about the ‘father figure’ this side of the border after stressing who his ‘Captain’ was. But there was little doubt who his ‘father figure(s)’ are in Pakistan.

Indian part of the Corridor is being completed in four months and Pakistan can be expected to match the same timeframe. It has been opined Imran Khan viewed Kartarpur Corridor stepping stone to kick-start India-Pakistan dialogue but India has repeated terror and talks can’t go together. It would be naïve to think that Pakistani army chief QJ Bajwa was not aware what India’s response would be when he suggested opening of the Kartarpur Corridor through Sidhu. In fact, he would have been more than certain. Obviously, Bajwa had ulterior motives and knew that India being in election mode was not in a position to refuse the proposal linking it with stopping terror, even though jathas of Sikh pilgrims have been visiting Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara via Lahore.

Concurrent to Imran Khan laying the foundation stone of the Kartarpur Corridor, ‘Sikhs For Justice’ (SFJ) announced a global convention in Kartarpur, Pakistan during November 2019; demanding autonomous country for Sikhs and to make the State of Punjab secede from India. Pakistan has been supporting ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’ in conjunction UK and Canada, and has been harbouring, training and arming Sikh radicals. Pakistan did not allow officials of the Indian High Commission at Islamabad to interact with 3000 Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan for the for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nank Dev celebrations on grounds of ‘security’ despite overt display of camaraderie by the Pakistani establishment. This was the third time in succession that Indian diplomats were denied interaction with Indian pilgrims.

Sikh pilgrimage routes and Gurudwaras in Pakistan display hoardings of ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’, Khalistani flags, and boards with names and photographs of Sikh radicals. Imran cleverly announced Gurudwaras in Pakistan are managed by Sikhs and his government has “nothing” to do with it but army, ISI, radicals, terrorists and Sikh separatists were present at the ceremony. For years the ISI has been working with radicals for ‘Sikh Referendum 2020’ and will assist ‘Kartarpur Convention 2019’ by the SFJ. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the Kartarpur Corridor will provide “smooth and easy access to pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Darabr Sahib throughout the year”.

There is debate on social media whether the Kartarpur Corridor has security implications or not. Those supporting latter say that talk of any threat whatsoever implies “doubting the loyalty of Sikhs”, Sikh pilgrims cannot be brainwashed and that ‘poor’ Sidhu was tricked by Pakistan army in pro-Khalistan radical Gopal Singh Chawla and a Hafiz Saeed aide getting photographed with him without Sidhu’s knowledge. But what would the Pakistani establishment gain by exposing Sidhu in such manner?

Many may be unaware that Hindu-Sikh population in Pakistan has been reduced from 24% post partition to 2% today; Sikh population reduced to some 2000 only. Sikhs have been targeted and killed periodically, girls raped and killed and forcibly converted through marriage. Recent reports reveal even British Sikh girls in UK are being targeted by Pakistan-origin grooming gangs for sexual abuse and exploitation over past decades. It stands to logic that surviving Sikhs in Pakistan may have been forced to make compromises and/or subjected to ISI’s focused radicalization. There may also be some ‘pseudo’ Sikhs, for example, Devi Singh of Uttranchal accused in sensational 2004 Burali jailbreak escaped to Pakistan and is under ISI tutelage disguised as a Sikh.

Punjab CM Amarinder Singh blamed ISI for the grenade attack in Amritsar at Nirankari Bhawan on November 19 killing three devotees and injuring 20. In declining invitation for the foundation stone laying by Imran, he drew attention to our soldiers losing lives fighting Pak-sponsored terrorists and ISI activities in Punjab during his present tenure as CM; neutralized 19 x ISI armed and controlled modules, apprehended 81 terrorists and recovered 79 weapons, plus numerous grenades and IEDs. We must consider narcotics and arms smugglers, separatists and saleable politicians can mingle with pilgrims streaming into Pakistan through Karatrpur Corridor, some susceptible to brainwashing and separatist propaganda. A reverse flow from Pakistan to India should also be expected, to include radicals, preachers and terrorists, including some disguised as Sikhs, under pretext of visiting religious places in India.

The loyalty of Sikhs is unquestionable given their outstanding contribution to India including service in the Armed Forces. This was not the question even when militancy was raging in Punjab. But how many terrorists are required for sporadic terrorist acts when there have been instances of smuggling narcotics, weapons and infiltration in Punjab with assistance from our end – 60-80-100-more? Khalistani Zindabad slogans and flags have been raised in Punjab occasionally even after militancy was supposedly eradicated. This year even saw youth sporting ‘Referendum 2020’ on their T-Shirts. Pakistan is resolved to revive militancy in Punjab and would attempt to also recruit unemployed youth especially those on drugs. Considering all this, readers can decide for themselves if there should be cause for concern.

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post retirement has published over 1300 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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