Seeking to politically leverage a good act is common. So is the case with Thursday’s ceremony in Pakistan when the neighbouring country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the project to construct the 4-km-long corridor through which Sikh pilgrims from India can travel the short distance to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district on the Indian side. It is just possible, of course, that Islamabad had timed the gesture to make it possible for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accept the invitation to the Saarc summit to be held in Pakistan later this year. After the Uri attack, India had boycotted the proposed 2016 summit in Pakistan, which could not take place as following India’s lead, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh also decided against participating.
Mr Khan — as well as his Army — may have hoped that the positive vibes produced by Kartarpur would make it hard for India to say no to summit participation this time around. But after the ground-breaking ceremony was done, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said in a stiff formal statement that India will be boycotting Saarc this year as well.
The reasons provided are extremely valid. Since 2016, Pakistan has not moved an inch to check Pakistan-based terrorism against India. In fact, this is why Ms Swaraj did not herself travel to Kartarpur Sahib, though formally invited. New Delhi is also put out that in his speech Mr Khan spoke at some length about the need to solve the Kashmir issue since going to war was not an option.
He seemed to go out of his way to underline that he, his party, the entire political class in Pakistan and the Pakistan Army were on the same page in desiring a “civilised relationship” with India, in effect seeking to counter the notion in India that the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence sabotage any and every steps initiated for peace.
India is seldom pleased when Pakistan brings up the Kashmir issue out of context. In the present instance, however, when the Kartarpur gesture is being widely appreciated in our border state of Punjab, especially among the Sikhs, whose contribution to the country’s security sector is particularly visible, New Delhi’s response should have been innovative.
Instead of being openly rejectionist, the Indian statement could have reiterated India’s desire to solve all outstanding issues with Pakistan peacefully and bilaterally, provided terrorism is tossed out of the equation. After all, Kartarpur was a bilateral forum. Besides, it is Mr Modi who a few days earlier had referred to the fall of the Berlin Wall, raising hopes.