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We, South Asians finally have one more K to debate! To ponder over, to determine whether it was a goodwill gesture or an opportunity to gain political mileage from, an opportunity to serve a ‘googly’ or be misinterpreted and slung out of context thus undermining all the goodwill and optimism that surged when the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur corridor took place last Wednesday.

India sent two Sikh ministers to attend the ceremony after Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj declined the invite sent her way by Islamabad and the nation cheered.

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, center, arrives at the Pakistani border post Wagha near Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Sidhu led his country's delegation to Pakistan for the groundbreaking ceremony of Kartarpur corridor on Wednesday, to give access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan. Image Credit: AP

However, one’s desire for the ice to finally thaw was not to be fulfilled. In fact, we - as in all those on both sides of the border who are hoping for our states to sheath their swords - were firmly put in place. The grim reminder being that real-life politics is more than goodwill gestures or well-meant initiatives. It’s also about playing the tune, especially when India’s general elections are a few months away [scheduled for May 2019] and the wisdom lies in not deviating from one’s ‘anti-this’ and ‘anti-that’ rhetoric to an extent that it shall be undermined by one’s neighbour.

After all, winning the 2019 election is the ultimate prize for the Modi government and Pakistan could once again serve the same old convenient whipping horse it has in the past. So, let the war drums roll whipped to frenzy by inflammatory statements and fervent allegations of terrorism sponsorship.

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And what about Pakistan? This is not to say that there was no strategic political planning behind it on this side. We are all here to gain some mileage somewhere so why not? And if it’s for a good cause then we are all for it. And what better cause than to normalise ties with India?

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan shakes hands with cricketer-turned-Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu during ground breaking ceremony for Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan's Kartarpur, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

After all, despite the bloody wars fought between us, we have much to gain in mending our relations. Politics aside, the bilateral trade itself is dynamic powerhouse that would benefit both. Oh, and did anyone think of the transnational, multiparty belt and road initiative that would benefit everyone were our politicians and militaries to finally settle the long-standing disputes between us? Yes, Kashmir and the rest…but more of the bigger K later.

Imran Khan’s government timed this well. He laid the foundation stone for the corridor as his government marked 100 days in power. It was a smart foreign policy move that actually went in Pakistan’s favour. Here was Pakistan showing magnanimity and respect for visiting Sikh pilgrims from India thus offering in one sweep easier access to the founding commune of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism who also commands much respect among Muslims for shared similarities in teachings of Islam.

But the palatable goodwill and genuine smiles we witnessed at the ceremony were eclipsed by a pointed rebuke by Swaraj who was quick to dispel any delusions regarding India’s decision to participate at the event as a sign of softening towards Pakistan. She categorically rejected participation in SAARC if Pakistan were to host the summit until it assuaged Indian concerns about its alleged terrorist support.

And so, the circus continued. Indian media went into overdrive implying Kartarpur to be the stealth opportunity for Pakistan’s efforts to fan Khalistan secessionism. Hear, hear…have we not our own goose to cook at home than meddle in Indian Punjab? Frankly at this time, this would be downright stupid if it were even remotely true.

Or maybe it’s a case of kettle calling the pot black. After all Baloch separatists have allegedly enjoyed special favour in India as have Kashmiri mujahideen- a poignant reminder by New Delhi. Would it not be simpler if we all were to drop the façade of taking a moral high ground and accept that proxies are nurtured and maintained for one’s own vested interest, whether it is across the LoC, Balochistan or in Afghanistan.

If Pakistan checkmated New Delhi and the Modi government at Kartarpur by formally pledging to open this border crossing allowing Sikh pilgrims visa free passage to the revered site, Foreign Minster Qureshi need not have used terminology that gave his Indian counterpart ammunition to malign this move.

- Faryal Lagheri

And this is exactly what happened. It gave Swaraj the perfect batting ground to question Pakistan’s intentions.

But let’s give the devil his due. Poor Mr. Qureshi should next time refrain from using cricket terms and do some plain speaking, statesmen like. There is no doubt that he meant that following Kartarpur and earlier attempts by Prime Minister Imran Khan to reach out to India, New Delhi had run out of steam in its anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

This was reiterated by the premier in a lengthy interview Monday night while talking to some senior journalists on state television. However, more interesting than Kartarpur was Khan’s comments on Kashmir.

Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib in Kartarpur Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Khan’s foreign policy is clearly backed by the military establishment and if he wants to move forward on normalising ties with India that is extremely positive. He wants to resolve Kashmir through phased dialogue and believes that a solution is possible.

But is it that simple?

Vajpayee and Musharraf were very close to one but it never materialised. Here we have a strident BJP government under Narendra Modi that is not even willing to concede Kashmir to be an issue. On the cusp of elections bringing up Kashmir is hardly feasible. So, unless there is another terror attack that is blamed on Pakistan, Kartarpur remains the inexplicable thorn in Modi’s side.

Instead of accepting the olive branch the BJP has taken it as a slight. It is petty and not a politically savvy approach if long term interests are weighed in. Pakistan is not going anywhere and its best that both countries finally seek means to end the festering issues plaguing us since partition.

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Pakistan should also understand the implications of a solution to Kashmir. If an independent Kashmir is sought by Kashmiris it would also have to give up Azad Kashmir as would India its part of Kashmir. That jewel in the crown which has been woven in the whole Indian nationalism especially the Hindutva Mother India narrative is not one anyone would be willing to compromise.

Intractable?

It may seem so at this point but let us move forward on smaller issues. Let us move somewhere, we might end up moving together on disputes that loom large.

After all we have Kartarpur, bright and shining to cheer us onwards towards New Year.