(Pakistan PM Imran Khan)
Returned after nearly a week’s trip to the Balkans visiting Dubrovnik in Catholic Croatia, Kutar and Budwa in Russian Orthdox Montenegro and Mostar in Muslim Bosnia-Herzogovina — all former provinces of a once unified Yugoslavia that Marshal Josef Broz Tito had forged into a union of disparate peoples in the ‘partisan war’ against Hitler’s military forces, and which religious separate states were carved out of the debris of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the post-World War I peace conference at Versailles in 1919. Croatia and Montenegro that I visited were Western, more modern and prosperous and contrasted sharply with the rundown, impoverished Bosnia, with the urban spread in, say, Mostar, featuring the famous 15th Century single arched bridge over the River Neretva built by the Ottoman Turks, and the familiar small shops crowding criss-crossing narrow lanes, and the smoke of grilled kebabs wafting through them — felt more like home but Third World plus. It is interesting to mention here that on my last trip to the then still existing Yugoslavia in 1983 — I visited Sarajevo, the western most outpost of Islam in Europe, and was told by the Grand Mufti of the great mosque there — a fine example of Ottoman architecture — that the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzogovina would have an independent state. It was a prospect pooh-poohed by the Yugoslav government officials I met in Belgrade. I wrote about it then — possibly the first mention anywhere of the likely emergence of an independent country in Muslim Bosnia!
I mention the majoritarian religions in these “new” countries because it is precisely the resurgence of the religious identity at the expense of national identity that some 25-30 years ago sank the great experiment in secular state building Tito had managed with aplomb. The supreme irony is this: While just about any and everyone I talked to in these independent states recalled Tito with great respect and even fondness, and conceded that life generally in a united Yugoslavia was more orderly and way better in many respects than what they presently have, they were all equally emphatic that the balkanisation of Yugoslavia, facilitated by numerous players but materially assisted by the US military intervention, was a good thing to happen and long overdue. Unsurprisingly, the Croatians and Montenegrans made no attempt to hide their antipathy, even hatred, for Muslims and Islam generally, which attitude of contempt the Bosnians heartily reciprocated for Christians and Christianity.
What I was told and how I perceived things there played out in my mind in the background of our own circumstances. Like the Balkans in the 1990s, South Asia, but on a far vaster and ethnically more heterogeneous scale, where every imaginable kind of people have lived, sometimes fist by jowl, but generally peaceably for millennia, and where the whole complex fell apart in 1947, on account of religion. Religious faith is a curious thing that’s often trifled with by politicians for low gain but to devastating effect. To state the obvious — it is the exploiters of religions who are the great dividers, not religions themselves. But religion does not centrally intrude into in India-Pakistan relations, in most part because, to the mortification of the Pakistan ideologues, there are now more Muslims in India. Imran Khan’s decision to construct a “Kartarpur corridor”, however, has a different religious tinge.
If you cut out the publicity-seeking hijinks of the boisterous middleman — Navjot Singh Siddhu, the sometime India opening bat and Punjab minister who’s proving a handful for chief minister Amarinder Singh, and consider Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of free, visa-less, access to Indians and followers of Guru Nanak Dev to visit one of the most important Sikh holy places, then he needs to be commended, especially because there’s nothing comparable on the table from the Indian side. It is Imran’s own unique gambit — initially referred to by a Pakistani notable as a “googly” (where Imran is concerned, can the cricketing idiom be avoided?) that elicited a like trivial Indian response — an opening move is to resolve, if possible, the tiresomely disputatious relations between India and Pakistan that have done neither country any good, but prevented both and the subcontinent from emerging as a power bloc that the world would have to reckon with.
In his recent televised meeting with India media persons, Imran made many interesting statements, some in reply to questions. Among these in no particular order, that the Pakistan government has according to UN Resolution 1267 sanctioned Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorist outfit, that the 26/11 case against Hafiz is in the courts and thus sub judice. When reminded about the several occasions in the past about the sequence of the Kargil intrusion following Vajpayee’s Lahore visit, the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in the wake of the 2007 meeting of PMs in Sharm el-Sheikh, he brushed it off by saying simply “I am not responsible for (what happened in) the past.” And then went on to say that the two countries better make move on from these incidents of the past and capitalise on the fact that “There’s no animosity between the peoples of the two countries” and reiterated that every section of Pakistani society, including the army, is now on “the same page” and agrees in the consensus view that neither nuclear-armed country has an option other than to live in peace.
But, there are problems. Pakistan has said that the basic predicate for peace is the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. India, on the other hand, while claiming all of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit, Hunza and the Northern Territories, has maintained there cannot be talks without- Pakistan ceasing its support for terrorism and giving evidence of it (by ideally handing over Hafiz Saeed, et al). The trouble is Delhi has stuck to this position for a while, disallowing resumption of any talks, “composite” or any other or even through the “secret channel” that in the Manmohan Singh era comprised Ambassador Satish Lamba from this side. Imran is showing more flexibility. He has suggested, for instance, that Kashmir be less in the public eye, which he claimed was because of the actions of the Indian army. Were the imagery of turmoil in the Srinagar valley to be absent, the optics, Imran implied, would become amenable for bilateral talks in his country. In a separate meeting with Pakistani editors he mentioned that he had “2 or 3 options” in mind to pursue on Kashmir which, he realistically says, he cannot presently do with India entering the 2019 general election season, but without spelling out these solutions. But surprisingly, to the Indian newspersons he indicated his preferred solution that he said Musharraf almost clinched in 2007 and which he said, in so many words, because it was supported at the time by GHQ, Rawalpindi, would be acceptable to Pakistan army in the future as well.
For Imran’s interaction with the Indian media see the youtube link below:
Imran, of course, is absolutely right. The 2007 plan Musharraf negotiated had three basic points. One, both sides of Kashmir would come under a commission manned by representatives from the two countries to oversee the affairs of all of Kashmir. Secondly, free travel, trade and other interaction would be permitted between the two Kashmirs, except every time Indian or Pakistani Kashmiri crossed the line he would have to have his identification papers stamped. And finally, other than police for constabulary duties there would be phased deconcentration of Indian and Pakistan army unit from their respective sides of the province. Why Delhi accepted this draft-accord is clear — the requirement that Kashmiris to-ing and fro-ing across the line would have to have their identity papers stamped in essence asserted both Indian and Pakistani sovereignty and acknowledged these territories as wholly and inseparably parts of India and Pakistan. Why Musharraf accepted the deal was the fig leaf provided Islamabad which, in reality, helped the Pakistan government to ease itself out of championing the Kashmiris’ cause and hence wash its hands off the Kashmir issue one and for all while claiming Pakistan would have its hand in on the steering heel of Kashmir affairs, courtesy the joint commission — supposedly a great concession extracted from Delhi.
Yes, this last was how Musharraf was going to ballyhoo the deal to ensure it slid down the throats of the Pakistan establishment and people without their gagging on it. Alas, even this small, nonexistent “victory” if conceded to Pakistan, the Congress party regime of Manmohan Singh felt would enable the Bharatiya Janata party in opposition to make an electoral feast of it, and so the done deal was turned down. As I have long asserted in my books and writings, this is the only and obvious solution to put the Kashmir issue to rest. Would a re-elected Modi be any more willing to change his stance and accept this solution considering Imran has already flagged it as his and Pakistan army’s choice?
Modi is forced into this position of having to react to Imran’s peace overtures because of two things: He messed up by not following through on the logic of his original move of inviting with much fanfare all South Asian heads of government to his 2014 inauguration — a grand and most effective gesture that promised so much, given that Pak PM Nawaz Sharif was there, all prepped to resume dialogueing and otherwise ready to partake of any other peace moves Modi had in mind to run with. Instead, Modi fell into the familiar Delhi rut except now the demonisation of Pakistan (on terrorism) kept pace with his domestic political agenda of firming the Hindu support base with intemperate Muslim bashing over cow slaughter and by keying up the Bajrang Dal type of vigilantism. Will a manifestly less liberal Indian state run by Modi, post 2019, be any more receptive to resolving the Kashmir issue and making enduring peace with Pakistan?
It is here that Imran has played a most brilliant card — “Kartarpur corridor”. It may not compel Modi to negotiate on Kashmir but it has preempted him from doing anything silly, like actually initiating military hostilities for any reason. Why? Because as Imran explained to Indian reporters the entire sector fronting on the corridor saw the most massive Partition massacres in either Punjab of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and the promise of unhindered Kartarpur access will sentimentally and emotionally disarm the Sikhs (who fill some leading Indian army regiments of infantry and armour/mechanised units) and firm up their resolve particularly in Indian Punjab against disturbing the status quo with military action. Whence his confident declaration to the Pak media that “After Kartarpur, it will be very difficult for India to create hate against Pakistan.”
There’s only so much hate-mongering Modi, Adityanath and that entire cohort can do to wring political profit. because already, one senses the turning of the tide — the results of the state elections next week especially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are bellwether of this. The killing of the UP police SHO in Bulandshahr by a Bajrang Dali may have capped Adityanath’s ambition but, more importantly, also Modi’s tendency to go overboard with the Hindu-cow card.
But there’s the sharp side to Imran’s Kartarpur gesture that one cannot ignore because it also holds out an internal security threat to India should Modi continue with his anti-Pakistan rhetoric and policies after 2019. Hot-headed elements in Sikh communities in the West (UK, US and Canada, in the main) calling themselves ‘Sikhs For Justice’ (SFJ) have long nursed the thoroughly impractical notion of the Sikh state of Khalistan, which the late Khushwant Singh, I recall, had lampooned as an idea propagated by fellow religionists with a vacant space (khali stan) between their ears, and have always made more noise at the margins than their numbers would suggest! (Incidentally, in the recent Congressional elections in the US, the Khalistan campaign lost one of its most ardent supporters, California Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, who failed to win the election in the 48th District. He was a real pain in India’s ass because he also backed Pakistan on Kashmir — I was appalled hearing him expound his ill-informed views at a Washington conference on Kashmir in the mid-2000s.)
Well, SFJ means to influence the masses of Indian sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur starting next year when the corridor, as Imran has promised, becomes operational to support what it calls ‘Referendum 2020’ on an independent state of Khalistan per the UN Charter provision for self-determination. For which purpose SFJ plans to sponsor the travel to Kartarpur by 10,000 Indian sikhs in order “to educate and inform” them of this right that they can exercise. The SFJ founder, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, called the corridor “a Bridge to Khalistan”, saying the proposed “Kartarpur Sahib Convention is pivotal to referendum campaign as this will be the first ever global gathering of the Sikh separatists from foreign countries with the Sikh people from Punjab.”
Now SFJ has made plain its aim, even though the awful experience of the ruthless quelling of the last such uprising by the then DG, Punjab Police, the late, great and redoubtable KPS Gill, has chastened Sikh Punjabis against again being part of any such misadventure. The Pakistan army and ISI, however, couldn’t be more delighted at the prospect of thus reviving the Khalistan Movement in Indian Punjab and, at a minimum, needling India if Delhi continues to stiff-arm Islamabad and Imran on negotiating peace in Kashmir. But with the Sarajevo Mufti in mind SFJ phenomenon should be treated with the utmost caution and dispatch.
This is a nice one-two punch the Imran government has conceived. Either way Imran and Pakistan cannot lose, and Modi and India cannot win. More, the moral high ground as well as the optics are on Imran’s side as peace-seeker.