Military experts have opined that the land swap for Kartapur gurdwara in Pakistan proposed by former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa, was feasible with the caveat that an equal piece of land which was not of strategic or tactical significance was to be offered to Pakistan.
The Indian Express spoke to several senior retired officers of the Army who have all retired as General Officers Commanding-in-Chief of various commands to elicit their views on the issue. Both, Badal and Bajwa, have proposed that since the gurdwara in Pakistan lies very close to the international border, India and Pakistan could enter into an agreement to swap land which would do away the need for a permanent corridor to the gurdwara. Both leaders have cited the example of the land swap carried out for Husseiniwala memorial for Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in Ferozepur in 1961 and the swapping of enclaves with Bangladesh recently.
Former Northern and Central Army Commander, Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) said that since the area in question involved only a few thousand metres and would not pose a major strategic threat to either country, the matter could be taken up with mutual agreement.
“We can give a similar piece of land and there will be no villages involved in this. We have land across the Ravi in several other place which can be given to them and compensate our people. If BJP does this it will be a big feather in their cap,” he said.
Lt Gen Panag, however, added that as far as the swap of land was concerned, something which was militarily not significant can be exchanged. “It can be done if there is a will. It is worthwhile thing to explore. But at this juncture where we are on a hop on, hop off relationship and talk about talking one day and call it off the next, it is not understood how this will come about,” he said.
Lt Gen T K Sapru (retd), who retired as the GOC-in-C Western Command and knows the strategic importance of Dera Baba Nanak area well, is also of the view that the land swap idea is a doable one provided the military’s point of view is considered. “Unless Pakistan demands some land which is tactically important to us and which is of help to us this swap can happen. After checking with the military some options can be given. And the other side too could be asked for give multiple options,” he said.
Lt Gen Sapru also sounded caution that the move can only go ahead provided the land which India would be asked to swap should not be of importance for tactical battle and offensive operations. “It may not be in the immediate vicinity, but it could be somewhere. Also the land which we would ask for cannot just be the approach to the gurdwara. That will not be tactically sound,” he said.
Another senior Army officer was, however, more circumspect regarding the proposal, was of the view that there was no need to get into a land swap. Lt Gen P N Hoon, former Western Army Commander, said that the element of pro-Khalistan sympathies promoted by Pakistan cannot be lost sight of when such proposals are considered. “There will be a problem in this swap and this area is very significant and the communication corridor here goes straight up north. If we have to give land then we have be very careful. The issue of Khalistani elements is a severe problem also,” he said.
Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen B S Jaswal (retd) said that the swap could take place as long as Pakistan does not not ask for any area in return which will remove their vulnerabilities or create criticalities for Indian Army. “I will be very frank. If the religious sentiments of the people of Punjab can be honoured by such a step and if there is a government to government agreement to get this enclave, then it can be done. But what will Pakistan ask for in return? The exchange values of what Pakistan has asked in then past has been high,” said Lt Gen Jaswal.
Lt Gen Jaswal said that in the past Pakistan has always asked for features and areas which have undermined India’s stand like Haji Pir in Jammu and Kashmir. “Militarily we are well entrenched and we are already in an advantage in the area of the gurdwara. There are certain enclaves where Pakistan is extremely vulnerable and these should be protected by us and we should not fall in trap if they ask for these in return,” he said.