Pakistan’s New Gamble With The Sikhs To Settle Old Scores By James Duglous Crickton

Three days before the anniversary of 1971 defeat at the hands of the Indian army, on December 13 to be precise, the Corps Commanders of the Pakistan Army, also known popularly as the GHQ Shura, which runs the Pakistani Deep State, met in Rawalpindi; the mood was upbeat. The past month saw an unexpected turn around in the relations with the United States. President Donald Trump is no longer ticking off Pakistan as a nation that has been deceiving and cheating the Americans in the fight against terrorism. In fact, he has formally written a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking help on the Afghan theatre. (Pakistan has since facilitated a meeting between American officials and Taliban leaders in Abu Dhabi). The US request for assistance was reassuring to the Generals that Rawalpindi had not become irrelevant to Washington. A good omen (from Pakistan’s perspective) since it needs American help in securing a bail out from the IMF. 

So much so, the Shura meeting turned its attention away from the situation beyond the Durand Line (the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan drawn in 1893 by British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand) to the situation along the Radcliff Line (the demarcation drawn by Law Lord Cyril John Radcliffe slicing British India’s Punjab province into Indian and Pakistani portions in 1947). And found reason to sport a smile in the Imran Khan diplomacy that has cornered arch rival India. Khan’s initiative has resulted in both countries committing to build a corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak Gurudwara in India and Kartarpur Gurudwara in Pakistan. It was a small step, covering just three kilometers but it is a giant stride in enabling visa free access for Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur, the resting place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. Whether India likes it or not, the Kartarpur corridor plan has given Pakistan an upper hand in the bilateral see-saw. Many Pakistani friends told me that opening of the corridor, expected in early 2019, would project Pakistan in good light amongst the Sikh community not only in India but also world-wide.

After the Shura session, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met a small group of officers including Gen Asim Munir, head of the Army’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, (ISI), which, Indians say is engaged in using Islamic terror proxies to keep their country on the tenterhooks. During the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq, who had helped the US to throw the Soviet Red Army out of Kabul, ISI fanned the demand for Khalistan as well. This separate country for Sikhs was sought to be carved out of India’s Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana provinces. Now with Kartarpur corridor in sight, the ISI appears to be back at the drawing board to make India bleed with thousands of cuts as Pakistan said it would after the 1971 war. How the plan will unfold is difficult to crystal gaze for a wayfarer like me but it is will be a very intricate plan, comprising violent and non-violence tactics – all synched through a multi-pronged propaganda campaign. Its objective will be three-fold: alienate the Sikh community from India, escalate the demand for Khalistan and bismarck India’s image at international platforms as a country given to religious intolerance.

A key facet of the ISI’s blue print, according to reports, will be Kartarpur Saheb Gurudwara itself. It would entail the sudden ‘discovery’ of the ancient remains of a ghat (steps leading to a river), close to the Gurudwara. River Ravi was once flowing close to the Gurudwara and Guru Nanak took this ghat for his daily bath in the river during the last 18 years of his life. The river has since changed course, and is flowing a few miles away from the Gurudwara.

From what I hear, despite its best efforts, the ISI has not found the remains of any structure resembling a ghat in the vicinity of the holy shrine. In case such a discovery is orchestrated? Well, Sikhs from across the world will make a beeline to Pakistan, giving the country great influence over their community, and a still greater handle against India. “Operation Guru Ghat” is the natural corollary. The ISI plans to organize the ‘discovery’ with the aid of archaeologists and irrigation experts. First some bricks of 14- 15th century vintage will be “buried” close to the Gurudwara. Second the ancient bricks will be “discovered” accidentally and suddenly. Good drama that will make the Bollywood (of Mumbai) and Lollywood (of Lahore) film makers to put on a thinking cap for a more absorbing plot line. No doubt.

What would Pakistan gain from this skulduggery? Multiple benefits. One Pakistan could arm-twist India to bring Ravi waters to Kartarpur, which in essence means changing the course of the mighty river. All in the name of Sikh community’s sentiments and interests! Second, reconstruction of the ghat would be a big draw with the Sikhs. More visitors would mean more goodwill and more greenbacks. Third, a fillip to ISI efforts to identify, recruit and operationalize Sikh assets to carry forward the Khalistan campaign. Also hassle free visits of Sikh proxies to Pakistan for meetings to chalk out the next course of action.

Separately, Sikh bodies like the Punjab Sikh Sangat and Dayal Singh Research & Cultural Forum could be roped in to spread a pro-Pakistan message, while attacking India for its “lack” of religious freedom. Already Prime Minister Imran Khan has unveiled this plank with his Christmas-Day jibe at India. Pakistan, he said in a Twitter post, treats minorities as equal citizens, “unlike what is happening in India”; he has also gone to the town with another Tweet that he would “show” the Narendra Modi government “how to treat minorities”. Clearly, Pakistan is getting ready to bombard the Sikhs in North America, Europe and elsewhere with anti-India propaganda in local Punjabi newspapers and news portals like the Charhdi Kala, Akal Guardian, Punjab Herald and Punjab Hub.

Kartarpur is going to emerge as the complete ‘win-win’ for Pakistan with a handful of pro-Pakistan Sikhs taking over the Sikh narrative to target India. What about the silent majority of the Sikh community worldwide? Will they quietly watch from the sidelines or side-line Pakistan’s Sikh proxies? Difficult to predict the scenario; yet will I bet my last penny? Yes, certainly guided history!

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