It is premature to see the signs of a thaw in Indo-Pak relations using the instrument of the 550th anniversary of the birth of the Sikh saint Guru Nanak Dev. But there is noticeably a spirit of homage and celebration on the Indian side which can be translated into a de-escalation of the decades of bitterness that has characterised relations between the two estranged neighbours. For the Pakistan government this may be an opportunity to forge closer links more for strategic reasons than any genuine warmth with a community that has been in the forefront of the intense rivalry. That bilateral talks on the proposed Kartarpur corridor linking the two sides have survived the bitter stalemate is in itself a positive development. All other forms of cooperation have failed as ties between the two countries have touched their lowest ebb.
That Guru Nanak’s birthplace is in today’s Pakistan is indeed an irony of fate. In a unique move the Kartarpur corridor has been created from the Indian side for use from next month leading up to a gurudwara in Pakistan where the memorial to Guru Nanak is located, has made it possible for Indian pilgrims to visit the sacred place. That former prime minister Manmohan Singh has agreed to travel through the corridor to the gurudwara and President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Modi have confirmed presence at a special event makes one wonder whether this would be precursor to an event where Indian leaders would be amenable at a future date to visiting the shrine in Pakistan in a display of closeness. As of now, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and other Indian leaders have turned down Pakistan’s invitation to attend a function to mark the occasion on the other side of the border. The biggest stumbling block to durable peace and harmony between India and Pakistan has, however, been the hidden hand of the Pakistan army which apparently has a stake in destabilising Indo-Pak relations.
A new term called ping-pong diplomacy had originated at the height of the Cold War in 1971, when a group of American table-tennis players visited Communist China. Their trip ended the 22-year-long diplomatic silence between the two countries. It was followed by the then US President Richard Nixon's visit to the Chinese mainland, the first by a US President, in February 1972. The breaking down of the Berlin Wall is also seen as a landmark in the reunification of the two Germanys which led to durable peace. How far the Kartarpur homage will go to bring India and Pakistan closer is dependent on whether Islamabad is willing to look forward rather than backward. There is no doubt that Pakistan’s economy is in shambles and the country is seen internationally as a hotbed of terror breeding which can change if Indo-Pak relations are thawed. There is no doubt, however, that the road to a thawed relationship is tough due to deep-rooted mutual suspicions.
US renews hopes on major trade deal
There is no doubt that the non-signing of a comprehensive trade deal between India and the US which was much anticipated was a bit of a dampener on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US when he met US President Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. There was little explanation beyond the clichéd one that the deal had not been dropped but had been held in abeyance. Now has come US Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross’ statement that there is no structural issue between the two countries and the deal could be signed very quickly. He said the Indian election has come and gone and since Modi has a clear, strong position in Parliament, it should be a lot easier to take decisive action. He, however, indicated that the US would not change its stand towards trade practices it found to be ‘unfair.’
Significantly, Ross said India could step up exports in place of Chinese products to the US markets. Apparently, India is being offered the bait of increased exports at the expense of China. What is true, however, is that under Donald Trump, the US is a hard bargainer and India would need to garner all its skills to strike a good deal with the Americans.