The longstanding desire of the Sikh community to be able to visit one of their holiest sites, the last resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, in Pakistan has been fulfilled at last. Just four kilometers from the international border and visible on clear days, the Sikh shrine was awarded to Pakistan at the time of British India’s Partition in 1947.
It is indeed a pivotal moment in the history of India-Pakistan relations, which has received considerable public attention. Even the U.S. State Department underlined its importance when it gave a statement on the Kartarpur Corridor on the day of its opening. However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expression of gratitude to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for honoring the feelings of Indians on Kartarpur was baffling and contradictory.
Optimists would argue that when virtually every avenue of people-to-people contact between the two hostile neighbors has been closed, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor should be seen as the most positive development.
But pessimists would counter this optimism by arguing that trust between the main political actors – as well as the experience of sharing common values and goals – must exist prior to the institutionalization of the process of building trust. They would point to the fact that though Khan offered an olive branch of peace to Modi, he still could not stop himself from reiterating Pakistan’s long-held position on Kashmir when he raised the issue of alleged mistreatment of Kashmiris by India. Given his several domestic challenges on both economic and political fronts, Imran Khan has very few options but to raise the pitch on Kashmir, but there should be no doubt that Pakistan will not lose any opportunity to embarrass India on the issue.
Meanwhile, Modi thanked the Pakistani workers who had built the corridor in record time. But his attempts to equate the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor with the fall of the Berlin Wall are not supported by facts on the ground, and therefore lack substance. Three decades ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall signified the end of the arbitrary division between East Germany and West Germany. But it also signaled the end of the Cold War; the two superpowers were locked in a bitter post-World War II rivalry, and the disappearance of the Berlin Wall ensured that only one remained. Since the Cold War between India and Pakistan is yet to be terminated, it is not clear if Modi meant the territorial disintegration of India’s bitterest enemy by his Berlin Wall analogy.
Modi inaugurated the Indian side of the corridor at Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur but his absence from the main ceremony at Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Kartarpur was deliberate. His preference to remain on the India side of the Redcliff Line and let the Indian delegation — including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — be on the other side belies the hope of the Kartarpur Corridor being a breakthrough in India and Pakistan’s fractured relationship. In a recent public address, India’s external affairs minister has already ruled out the possibility of a dialogue with Pakistan, which “has built an industry of terror.”