Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

[op-ed snap] Kartarpur milestone

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India - Pakistan Kartarpur

Context

The signing of the India-Pakistan agreement on the Kartarpur Corridor, providing visa-free access from the closest point in India, is a historic moment in relations between the two countries.

Importance of the step

  • It has come at a time when there has been high accumulated hostility. 
  • The year has been bad, starting with Pulwama, the IAF operation inside Pakistan, and the war of words over the government’s decisions in Kashmir. 
  • Kartarpur Corridor agreement is the only positive development. It came to fruition because both sides showed the good sense to delink it from the rest of the relationship. 

The self-interest of both sides

  • With so many important Sikh shrines on its side, Pakistan believes it can forge a special relationship with the Sikh community and has done so pro-actively. 
  • India cannot afford to be seen as lagging behind on this, given Punjab’s complex post-Partition political history. 
  • The agreement is a boon to the Sikh community in India, who have the opportunity to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur, directly through a road from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab to the shrine. It heals one of the wounds of Partition for the Sikh community.

The issue over pilgrim charges

  • Pakistan will levy US$20 fee per pilgrim. Punjab Chief Minister called this a jazia tax, invoking specters of the medieval oppression of Sikhs by Mughals. 
  • The Indian claim that such charges are not in keeping with the religious-cultural ethos of the country is not even accurate. 
  • Big Indian temples charge worshippers for “special darshans” or “quick darshans”, and pilgrims pay these fees without complaint. 
  • China levies charges on pilgrims visiting Lake Mansarovar and India has never objected, even when the fee was hiked a few years ago. 
  • India has dropped the demand that Pakistan does not levy this charge. The amount is protected by the agreement, and any hike will have to be re-negotiated by the two governments.

Similar to IWT

  • In some ways, the Kartarpur agreement is comparable to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty.
  • It was negotiated and signed by the two countries despite the bad blood over Kashmir. 
  • That, too, was a standalone agreement of its time and has withstood the repeated shocks it has been subjected to by the bilateral ups and downs. 

Conclusion

Hopefully, the Kartarpur Agreement will remain as enduring as the IWT. It may be unrealistic to hope at this moment that this agreement will pave the way for a wider constructive engagement between the two countries. But it shows that the two sides are not entirely without the capability to do this.

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