The excitement at the formal inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor to facilitate a short and easy passage for Indian Sikh pilgrims to the holiest Sikh shrine (Gurudwara Nankana sahib) that lies in Pakistan, led many in India to suggest that this could be a bridge to eternal peace (as Navjot Sidhu did), between the two countries. India’s prime minister had even suggested that the initiative was akin to bringing down of the ‘Berlin wall’ for the region. But thereafter India’s foreign minister came out strongly against any assumption that the opening of the corridor could see a thaw in bilateral ties.
It had raised questions on whether Mr Modi’s government was divided over what to do with Pakistan. On the other hand, Pak’s prime minister went on to assert that his government, all political parties in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s army were all on the same page on ties with India. But the question is: “what is it that they’ve agreed on?”Certainly, not over a settlement on Kashmir, on an as-is basis; a position that India was willing to take both after the 1965 and 1971 wars. Because if you take the Kashmir dispute away from Pakistan, it’ll be left rudderless.
Pakistan’s many reasons
In fact, the proposal for the Kartarpur corridor was floated by India more than two decades ago, and emphasised by Mr Vajpayee on his trip to Lahore. Having dragged its feet for all these years, Pakistan had suddenly gone ahead with the inauguration now, after Imran Khan was sworn in as their PM. And though it is commonly believed that Imran is the army’s man in the hot seat, there are clearly other reasons for formalising this proposal on 25th November.
For one, it was announced a day prior to the tenth anniversary of the gruesome 26/11 attacks in Mumbai that was carried out by Pak and its proxies. The expected media hype over the announcement of the setting up of the corridor would help overshadow the negative press coverage—at least in India—that Pak’s ‘deep state’ was expecting.
And the other diplomatic benefit, hoped Pakistan, was that the Kartarpur initiative will allow it to come out looking good, and not the epicentre of terrorism in the region, by seeking talks with India, as Imran Khan did at the grand function organised for the event. (Strangely, Pakistan’s establishment had expected India to ignore their support to pro-Khalistan rabid anti-India baiters at this very venue, both prior to and during the event!).
If there is one thing that Imran Khan had wanted with his ‘Faustian bargain’ with its army’s brass hats, (when they made it known that he was ‘elected’ to his post, even before the voting was done), was to enjoy the importance he expected to get, as prime minister of a nuclear weapon state. But what he has ended up seeking is desperately needed a financial bailout from the IMF; but that looks unlikely for now.
With its forex reserves down to less than $7billion in 2018, Imran had managed some reprieve with a Saudi promise of$3billion cash and other $3billion of oil. More could come quietly, as some experts suspect. Pak has provided military units in the past to the Saudis and is said to stock a reasonable nuclear arsenal for that Gulf nation, which can be called to use if Iran comes out formally with its own nukes. And Islamabad’s other hope lies with Beijing, with Pakistan now all but a vassal state, that China controls in so many ways.
It virtually funds all major projects in Pak now, at unbearably high rates of interest, as Imran knows; from dams in the northern areas of POK to fibre optics cables that connect the Chinese military in Kashgar to GHQ Rawalpindi, all part of the new $60 billion-plus CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), the flagship part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (earlier OBOR).
But China has linked Imran’s call for financial assistance to 15 more projects as part of the CPEC. Ironically it was the CPEC projects that Imran and his advisers had been openly critical off, as Imran was sworn in.
Therefore, an engagement with India would not only ease Pakistan’s sense of isolation but help it convey to the world that even India was willing to overlook its own charges of Pakistan being the epicentre of terrorism and that it wasn’t doing enough to confront the menace of terror on its soil. But India apart, much of the international community led by the US has now had enough of Pakistan’s devious games.
Pakistan was thus put on the ‘grey list’ by an UN-approved body, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), that monitors funding of terror groups. Its members have been insisting that Pakistan does more, to move out of its grey-list or could it be put on the FATF ‘blacklist,’ for being a state sponsor of terrorism. That Imran Khan cannot do, and his army won’t do. Anti-India terror groups within Pakistan are both an asset and a liability for them, but more importantly, Pakistan’s army is now unable to confront them militarily, since the public support they enjoy will have enormous social implications if they do so.
A team of the FATF for the Asia Pacific region made a weeklong visit to Pakistan in October 2018 , to check to what extent the country had complied with the need to impose legal and institutional frameworks to curb terror funding and money laundering among other things. Media reports said that they weren’t impressed. But being adept at the use of smoke and mirrors, Pakistan’s establishment took cosmetic steps like the shifting of the Lashkar-e- Taiba’s (LeT) headquarters from its sprawling complex in Muridke to a dusty base in Samsatta (and placed temporarily under its Punjab government’s control).
Many more smoke screens would follow, in its quest to hide evidence and fudge the facts. And funds for the buildup of the new centres to house terror groups, to give Pakistani officials room for deniability, will come from cash donations made across Pakistan by the masses who have long believed that the LeT and their fellow travellers are Pakistan’s best hope to annex Kashmir through their so-called Jihad.
Pakistan’s blacklisting by the FATF would make it very difficult for financial assistance to come formally to Pakistan’s help, as the country stares at its vastly depleted foreign exchange reserves. But Imran Khan did the smart thing to make public his country’s financial plight at the start of his tenure so that the finger of blame would point to his predecessors viz. the Nawaz Sharif government.
Ironically though, having put the blame during his political speeches and statements for all of Pakistan’s troubles on the West, Imran now has to seek a bailout from the West! More so, as the Chinese are unwilling to bail the Pakistanis out this time by only cash support, having given Pakistan $5 billion in 2017 and an emergency handout of $1 billion loans in 2018, they’ve announced it’ll be linked to the ‘cash for kind’ China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. The CPEC is linked to China’s much-acclaimed gift to the world, the Belt and Road Initiative, President Xi Jinping’s legacy, which is facing hurdles everywhere.
If Pakistan eventually gets an IMF bailout, as it has on twelve occasions in the past, and if it then asks to resume talks with India, as it will sooner or later, Indian diplomats might like to respond to their Pakistani counterparts to say that India could, but only on New Delhi’s terms. And to rub their point home, they could remind the Pakistanis that a nation that is ‘broke’ cannot set the agenda.
It will help to draw a parallel from a footnote in our post-1947 history when an arrogant Zulfikar Bhutto had told the humble Swaran Singh, India’s foreign minister after the 1962 Chinese invasion, that India was a defeated nation and it was in no position to state a claim over Kashmir. Now perhaps, it is our turn to remind the Pakistanis of the mess they are in, and that they need to sort their home out before they can hope to save the Kashmiris.