No-Go Zone: Why India-Pakistan religious tourism is a non-starter

The religious corridors to Kartarpur and now Sharada Peeth being enthusiastically mooted by Pakistan are simply a cynical ploy, which India must beware of.

02-04-2019

Geeta Mohan

GEETA MOHAN @geeta_mohan

There was never a real intent. Far from respecting religious sentiments, the Kartarpur corridor was a political tool being used for projection and one-upmanship.

India should have assessed reality on the ground. The enthusiasm shown by Pakistan over religious connect should have been seen as a red herring for India — as should be the other proposal by Islamabad now, to open up a corridor for Hindu pilgrims to visit the Sharada Peeth temple situated in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK).

Why do I say that?

To begin with, India has drawn a new red line for Pakistan, engaging the Khalistanis.

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Disturbing Liason: Sikh extremist Gopal Singh Chawla with LeT chief Hafiz Saeed. (Photo: Twitter/ @Geeta_Mohan)

In 2014, the Modi administration had sent out out a strong message to Islamabad by drawing a line with the Hurriyat, calling off talks because of Pakistan’s continuous engagement with separatist elements.

Pakistan has now found a new card to act as a disruptor — Khalistan.

Therefore, will Pakistan pay heed to India’s call and remove elements such as Gopal Singh Chawla from the Kartarpur Sahib Committee, who is not only a known Khalistani but also apparently a close aide of terrorist Hafiz Saeed?

Did Pakistan not know that?

They not only knew it but also have used Gopal Singh Chawla and his anti-India propaganda to their advantage. The Gurudwaras in Pakistan are infested with such elements. Instead of keeping these elements at bay, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has appointed some of them as members of the Committee. It is not just to rile India, but also to ensure that the messaging in international fora is that while Islamabad is taking forward-moving steps, India is holding back.

Having these elements as part of a religious initiative would be unacceptable to New Delhi — but can Imran Khan’s government remove these assets of the ISI?

If not, then Kartarpur is practically a stalled process for now.

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Kartarpur Sahib: The ploy for a fresh bout of one-upmanship against India. (Photo: India Today)

It is not just the fact that the corridor would be yet another tool in Rawalpindi’s anti-India kit; there are many other nuances that have to be looked into, such as the difference in opinion on permits to visit Kartarpur Sahib.

India insists that it should be a permit-free corridor whereas Pakistan wants passports and permits. After much persuasion, Pakistan agreed to Indians of all faiths being allowed to visit the holy place as the Indian Constitution does not allow for distinction or restriction on the basis of religion.

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How are Indian citizens expected to travel to Sharada Peeth temple? Taking Pakistani visas would be unacceptable. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But any decision on these areas could impact the other proposal put forth — to open up another corridor for Hindu pilgrims to visit the Sharada Peeth situated in Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK). While the focus would be for Kashmiri Pandits to be able to travel across the border, how will Indian citizens travel to the temple? Will Pakistan insist on visas? If so, then it would be unacceptable since it is occupied territory by Pakistan.

These are technicalities which would have far-reaching political and foreign policy impacts on India.

So, while the “no go” areas have been defined by India, it has to tread carefully to ensure it does not fall into any of Pakistan’s ploys.

Also read: Step towards Sharda Peeth: Pakistan’s proposal for a corridor to the famed temple breaks the ice in Kashmir rhetoric

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