Pakistan’s Kartarpur Exuberance

“Pakistan’s commitment to the Kartarpur Corridor shows how much it respects Sikhs,” Andrew Korybko, the Moscow based American analyst, wrote on the Eurasia Future web site that styles itself as the Global Policy & Analysis Think Tank.

The column appeared on 8 August and was followed by commentaries that were no more than a justification for the Khalistani creed and their campaign for a referendum next year to carve Khalistan as an independent sovereign state. Like many Khalistani thinkers and Pakistani commentators, Korybko makes a vociferous case for carving out Khalistan from India’s Punjab.

What about Pakistan’s Punjab province and its inherent right, as the land which remained the bulwark of the greatest Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh? Korybko is silent. Like many Khalistani thinkers and Pakistani commentators, though he claims to be the freewheeling thinker from the Eldorado settled in the land that was once the cradle of Communism!

This raises the question: Are these analysts limiting their gaze to a limited brief? The answer is obvious. They are neither bothered by history nor by the sentiments of the Sikhs, which revolve round Pakistan’s Punjab. It is the land sanctified by their Gurus and is dotted with Gurudwaras that have come up to commemorate the visits of the Gurus to Peshawar, Lahore, Gujranwala, Hasanabdal, Nankana Sahib, Sucha Soda (in Narowal) and beyond.

kartarpur gurudwara
Kartarpur Gurudwara

Every year, Sikhs from India and elsewhere make a beeline to these shrines to offer their obeisance to the founders of Sikhism, which goes to show that if at all there is to be a Khalistan it cannot be without Pakistan’s Punjab. Ignoring this historical and religious nugget will lead to creating a one-legged Khalistan.

Well, the likes of Andrew Korybko apparently do not want to (or do not dare to) give sleepless nights to their Pakistani friends, who have been working overtime to breathe life into a Khalistan movement.

The Khalistan movement has become dormant not only in India despite a Sikh majority province on the borders with Pakistan but also in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. This is notwithstanding the fact that local politicians have been walking the extra mile to court the Sikh vote bank. This temerity makes them sound hollow when they speak for Kartarpur or compliment Pakistan, as Korybko did, that “it avoided falling into the obvious trap of politicizing the Kartarpur Corridor as a response to India’s aggression in Kashmir.”

What happened in Lahore on Saturday, Aug 10, 2019, has driven the nail into the narrative these commentators have built in recent months that Pakistan’s principled commitment to this (Kartarpur) project “in spite of the upsurge in bilateral tensions shows just how much it respects the Sikh community’s religious sentiments.”

Statue of Raja Ranjit Singh Vandalised

Two men, styling themselves as the reincarnations of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (the first Muslim King to hold the title of Sultan and rule from 998 to 1030 over a vast military empire that extended from north-western Iran proper to the Punjab in the Indian subcontinent, Khwarazm in Transoxiana, and Makran) vandalised the statue of Raja Ranjit Singh placed near his grave in Shahi Qila.

The nine feet tall statue, made of cold bronze, was unveiled hardly two months back as a part of the officially sanctified campaign underway to herald the Kartarpur project later this year and to mark his 180th death anniversary. UK-based SK Foundation commissioned the project to show the regal Sikh emperor astride a horse, sword in hand, complete in Sikh attire.

“Two men – one pretending to have a leg disability carrying a wooden rod and another ‘helping him to walk’ – entered the Qila. Both men went straight to the statue and started hitting it with the wooden rods, resulting in the breakage of one of its arms and damage to other parts of the statue,” Imran Gabol reported in Dawn, a leading English daily. The incident occurred when the Qila was “routinely” opened for visitors in the morning. Security guards captured the attackers who were chanting slogans against the former ruler of the Punjab, the report added and quoted the Police as saying that the attackers were motivated and vandalised the statue ‘on the basis of religious biases.’

“The attackers were of the view that it is against their religion to erect a statue in a Muslim country and they would repeat the act if the authorities did not remove it,” Superintendent of Police (SP) Syed Ghazanfar Shah told Dawn. The Police-speak unmasks the reality which is widespread opposition to Imran Khan Government’s campaign to glorify Ranjit Singh and his rule to pump prime Khalistan nirvana, and to return to the Khalistan basics.

From Field Marshal Ayub Khan to General Pervez Musharraf every military ruler and every army chief of Pakistan nurtured one dream – Kashmir banega Pakistan. The present COAS General Bajwa subscribes to the same thought going by his frequent visits to the Line of Control, (LoC) and the forward posts on the eastern border. After all he is member of the same army ‘biradari.’ His emphasis on Sikhs and Kartarpur highlights that he is cut more in the Gen Zia mode, who had fully exploited the potential of Khalistan to give a bloody nose to India.

The 10th August vandalism in Lahore shows the limitations of Bajwaism. Neither he nor his selected Prime Minister Imran Khan is as astute as Gen Zia who could cut an American President of the stature of Jimmy Carter to size, while on military aid on offer, with his jibe – Peanuts. The Carters were into peanut-growing business. That Bajwa and Imran are not cut in the Zia mode is apparent from their ‘pilgrimage’ to the White House in July to seek multiple favours – exclusion from FATF’s black list to mediation on Kashmir – as trade-off for a ‘deal’ with the Afghan Taliban, which President Trump needs to cement his second term bid.

Bajwa-Imran combine could have fine-tuned the Zia strategy for the 21st century by “reinventing” the Sikh wheel as a new myth; they did not, and proved in the process that military strategists can only order but cannot deliver in a milieu that is not as straight jacketed as theirs.

The duo should have studied two other Zia phenomenon. One no tinkering with Pakistani history books, which ignore Ranjit Singh but eulogise the exploits of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who is regarded to this day as a saviour of the Muslims of Punjab from the excesses of Sikh and Maratha rulers in the mid-18th century; Two no references to Ranjit Singh in a celebratory language, as is being done by the Foreign Office and Federal and Punjab Ministers these days. Despite such a calibrated effort, Zia reaped no more than atmospheric dividends. Impetuousness and impulsiveness are the characteristic of Bajwa-Imran campaign with Sikh Shrines discovered and public obeisance allowed every other day as if they are war trophies on display.

The vandalism in Lahore is true to the glorious tributes Pakistani text books pay to the jihad led by Sayyid Ahmad during the first quarter of the 19th century against the Sikh rule of the day. The movement was indeed a militaristic attempt aimed at ‘liberating’ the Muslims of Punjab, according to Tehreek-e-Jihad Aur British Government – Ek Tahqeeqi Mutaleya (The Movement of Jihad and the British Government – An Investigative Study), published in 2014. The 256-page tome was written by Islamic scholar, Khushtar Noorani.

For jihadists in Pakistan, whose number shows no signs of decreasing, both Syed Ahmed and his disciple Shah Ismail Dehlvi are heroes; this comes out clearly in the Taliban videos as well.

Writes Noorani writes: “Muslims were generally troubled by the atrocities by the Sikh rule. Therefore, Syed Sahab (i.e. Syed Ahmed) began the practical jihad against the Sikhs, in which, along with the hundreds of mujahideen of India, different Muslim tribes of Sarhad ( present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan], who numbered in the thousands, participated with full fervour and enthusiasm.”

This jihadi movement remained alive in some form or other in Sarhad from the first quarter of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. Men and finances for campaign came from different parts of the then British India, which are mostly in today’s Pakistan.

Given this reality check, Pakistan’s commitment to Kartarpur Corridor project is more an info-war against India. It is a political game with the Sikhs’ religious sentiments. Exuberance whatever be the degree of its excess pays no dividends whether on cricket ground or parade ground.