After the announcement on the Kartarpur Corridor to Gurdwara Shri Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, it was inevitable that the two sides would have to meet to finalise the details of operationalising the passage, proposed as a visa-free entry into Pakistani territory. The Indian side has proposed to Pakistan the dates for this meeting, and if it takes place, it would be the first time after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that delegations from the two sides will sit across a table and talk to each other with the aim of reaching agreement on a specific bilateral issue.
There have been meetings between leaders or officials of the two sides earlier, but those have been “talks about talks”. The last bilateral agreement by the two sides was on cross-LoC trade, arrived at days before the Mumbai attacks.
As with any other India-Pakistan issue, reaching agreement will not be easy. India’s security officials view the Kartarpur corridor as an added vulnerability for the country vis a vis Pakistan in a sensitive border state. For its part, the Pakistani side is said to have proposed restrictions on the number of visitors per day and for pilgrims to carry passports to establish their identity. The Punjab chief minister, despite decrying the exercise as a plot by the Pakistan Army and the ISI to destabilise the state, wants the entry rules to be liberal.
Still, the negotiations will be proof that the two sides remain capable of speaking to each other, and that they can reach agreement, which they must. It is the only positive in an otherwise bleak landscape for India Pakistan relations, in which interactions usually take the form of harassment of diplomats, soldiers firing at each other over the LoC, the “summoning” of envoys and quaintly named missives of protest.
India has sent two notes verbales in recent days, one to protest the intimidation of two Indian High Commission officials in Islamabad by Pakistani intelligence officials, and another for the speech made by the US-designated terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil, head of the banned terror group Harkat ul Mujahideen, in which he threatened violence against India. Hopes for a possible Modi-Imran rapproachment have fizzled out.
As the Lok Sabha elections near, it will not be surprising if, as it has happened so often in the past, Pakistan gets drawn into the communally charged rhetoric that is the default stock-in-trade of certain political forces in India as the vote-seeking begins.