Two major events this week — UNSC vote and Kartarpur corridor meeting both involve Pakistan. India’s fourth attempt to declare Jaish-e-Mohammed(JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar a global terrorist, has been blocked by China. It is surprising that India wastes so much time and effort on this. Whether Azhar gets the tag of global terrorist, has no implications on the ground.
The hype over this is totally unnecessary. After all, Hafiz Saeed, whom India alleges was the kingpin of the 2008 Mumbai terror strikes, has that designation. Has it made any difference? None at all. The government is under cutting its own argument that the Pakistan military and its powerful spy agency the ISIS, nurture and back these two anti-India outfits. If that is so, the network of jihadi terrorists created by Azhar and Saeed are both intact and can be used whenever necessary.
Even if the leaders are in jail for sometime, Pakistan will use their services when needed. After all, the UN sanctions does not involve handing over these individuals to India. They remain in Pakistan. The designation merely means that they cannot travel abroad, nor make arms purchases or get donations from foreign sources. If Pakistan supports these two outfits, both funds and arms can be easily provided to their cadres. The UNSC cannot oversee what happens on the ground in Pakistan.
If China had gone ahead and supported the motion, it would have been hailed as a major diplomatic victory for India. BJP would sell this as Modi’s success in bringing Pakistan to book. Apart from helping the election propaganda machines, it would be of little further use. Except for deflating India’s ego, nothing else is lost. It is of little consequence that Azhar is not a global terrorist.
It would be foolish for India to spoil ties with China over this. India-China ties were steadily improving after the Wuhan informal summit, but could again hit a roadblock. Delhi should have a clear strategic idea of how to handle terrorism. Declaring Masood Azhar a global terrorist is a populist move but hardly makes a difference to the security situation. Pakistan would be happy to see that China has once again batted for its all weather friend at the UNSC.
Exactly a month of the Pulwama suicide attack that killed 42 soldiers and brought India and Pakistan to the verge of war, officials of the two countries are meeting at the Wagah/Attari border to finalise an agreement on the Kartarpur corridor. In normal circumstances, this would have been unthinkable. Terror and talks cannot go hand in hand is the refrain from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rest of the government.
Delhi will agree to talk peace with Pakistan only after Islamabad takes irreversible, verifiable and credible steps against all terrorists operating from its soil. Yet the Narendra Modi government is willing to receive the Pakistan delegation and begin talks on the Kartarpur corridor. In normal circumstances, Delhi would never have agreed to talk to Pakistan on anything, considering public anger after Pulwama and the BJP’s rabid promotion of ultra nationalism that would see them through the 2019 elections.
But realising the long held demand of the Sikh community to be able to go on pilgrimage — Kartarpur one of their holiest shrines, where Guru Nanak spent the last few years of his life and finally died there. Considering people’s deep attachement to religion, the BJP decided to go along with the previously agreed arrangement for a meeting to finalise operations. Not doing so would have deeply offended the Sikhs. And in an election year, the BJP would not afford to alienate them.
But the MEA has made it clear that this can by no means be seen as a peace move between the two arch rivals. The BJP has tried to spin the narrative that Kartarpur move is largely due to the party’s efforts and as the Akali Dal leader and BJP minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said it is the NDA government which succeeded in acting quickly to make it operational.
Successive Congress governments had failed to do so, she said. India keeps repeating that it was former NDA prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who pushed for this when India and Pakistan signed the Lahore agreement in February of 1999. But all credit for this gesture should go to Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan, (naturally) with the backing of his army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had decided on this as a goodwill gesture soon after his swearing in.
When cricketer turned politican Navjot Singh Sidhu returned from Pakistan after attending Khan’s swearing last August, he declared that General Bajwa had talked about allowing Sikh pilgrims access to Kartarpur before commemorating for the 550-years celebration of Guru Nanak’s birth this year. Sidhu was roundly thrashed by the BJP, his own party chief minister of Punjab and the Indian media.
No one believed that General Bajwa had actually talked of Kartarpur. But by November, the move gathered momentum. India’s cabinet approved the decision to connect Dera Baba Nanak to the Kartarpur border. On February 28, Prime Minister Khan laid the foundation stone of the 4-km corridor. India had no option but to send two of its junior Sikh ministers for the ceremony. The Sikhs in India were delighted.
The Pakistani prime minister has scored some brownie points since he took over. Kartarpur is definitely one. Releasing the captured IAF fighter pilot within two days was a smart gesture. Whether he did it under pressure from US, Saudi Arabia or China is not relevant. The world applauded Imran Khan.
Seema Guha is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.