The Indian government had little option but to reject Pakistan’s offer on Saturday to reopen the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor for pilgrims from India on Monday, June 29, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the iconic 19th century Punjab ruler, not only because of the short notice provided to make preparations but also, more importantly, the inadvisability of permitting pilgrimages given the rising positive cases of coronavirus on both sides of the border.
The government in Islamabad probably knew fully well that its offer to reopen the visa-free corridor on Monday, made public by its foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a tweet, would not be readily accepted by New Delhi, at least not in any hurry.
This, it felt, would enable it (Islamabad) to create a “mirage of goodwill” in the eyes of the outside world. The pilgrimage through this corridor, opened in November last year amid much fanfare, had been suspended since March 16 due to the growing pandemic threat.
In these circumstances, New Delhi made it clear it would need at least a week’s notice to make preparations, consult health professionals and assess if it would be safe to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit, before a decision could be taken. In addition, Pakistan is yet to build a bridge over the flood plains of the Ravi river that it had committed to in the bilateral agreement, and with the monsoon under way it had to be seen if pilgrims could travel through the corridor in a safe and secure manner.
India-Pakistan ties are anyway pretty close to rock bottom these days: not only are there almost daily instances of shelling and firing across the Line of Control in Kashmir, with several Indian soldiers as well as civilians losing their lives; just four days before Pakistan’s Kartarpur offer the two countries had ordered a 50 per cent reduction in the size of their diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals, after yet another case of harassment and physical assault of Indian high commission staffers in Islamabad.
There must be all-round improvement in the climate before it is safe for pilgrims to cross the border again.