History was made twice over on November 9. Besides throwing up the Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya tangle aimed at resolving a faith-rooted dispute, the date also etched itself in the record books of India-Pakistan relations, with the Kartarpur Saheb Gurdwara just six km across the border in Pakistan receiving its first batch of Sikh pilgrims from India through a specially built corridor — on a visa-free basis — under a new dispensation granted by Pakistan.
A matter of such moment could have lifted ties when bilateral relations have been frozen since the 2016 Pakistani terrorist attack on an Army camp in Uri, with the freeze deepening after New Delhi's August 5 decision to alter the constitutional status of J&K.
But it seems any potential for an opening may have been stymied by the remarks made by the Prime Ministers of the two countries at the very moment history was being made, with Pakistan leader Imran Khan’s observations being outright egregious. In the case of the Ayodhya judgment too, a resolution of sorts has been reached but possibly accompanied by a sullen or anxiety-seeped peace between the country’s two most significant religious communities.
The opening of the Kartarpur Saheb corridor to mark the 550th anniversary of the passing of Guru Nanak Dev, the 17th century founder of the Sikh faith, who had spent his last days at the gurdwara in Kartarpur, has come at a time when the bilateral relationship is fragile —something that Pakistan PM Imran Khan and his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi point out at the drop of a hat. They did so again as the Indian pilgrims arrived. Indeed, Mr Khan, showing poor judgment, raked up not just Kashmir but also made comments on the Ayodhya verdict. This line seemed well-orchestrated. Not just Pakistan’s PM, the foreign minister and the military spokesman, but also the country’s president, waded into the Ayodhya matter in the guise of commenting on the welfare of Muslims. This is hypocritical. Pakistan’s silence on fellow Muslims citizens in Balochistan as well as Muslims in China’s Xinjiang is deafening.
With India’s former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, like his predecessor A.B. Vajpayee, was known for his constructive stance on Pakistan, being in the first batch of Kartarpur pilgrims, the making of a small diplomatic window could have been hoped for. But the Pakistan line-up has vitiated the atmosphere for now. Mr Khan and the Pakistan military perhaps calculate that at a time of serious economic and political difficulties at home, a softening on India may appear ill-timed.
For his part, Mr Modi, too, played hot and cold. He thanked Mr Khan for Kartarpur and complimented Pakistan’s workers for having got the corridor ready very quickly (in the space of a year), but he addressed his counterpart by his last name of “Niazi”, which by an official circular Mr Khan has proscribed. Mr Modi’s reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall — also on November 9, coincidentally — as a “unifier” too may have seemed gratuitous to the Pakistanis in the wake of the recent Kashmir developments....