Pakistan: Open Sikh crossing spurs hopes of India talks

In a rare gesture of understanding, Pakistan and India have agreed to open a key border crossing next year ahead of the historic birthday of the founder of the Sikh religion.

The planned opening of the Kartarpur border, which connects Pakistan's northeastern city of Narowal to India's eastern Gurdaspur district, will provide visa-free access to Indian Sikhs to visit their holy temple.

The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is one of the most revered sites for the Sikh community, as some 500 years ago, Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last decades of his life here.

The distance between the temple and Gurdaspur is a short hop -- slightly over three kilometers (two miles) -- but when the crossing is closed it forces pilgrims to travel hundreds of kilometers via Amritsar and Lahore to reach the site.

Opening up the Kartarpur border is a way to spur dialogue between India and Pakistan, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters, referring to long-stalled peace talks between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

In 2014 New Delhi called off talks with Islamabad following a meeting of Pakistan's high commissioner to India with pro-independence Kashmiri leaders, accusing Pakistan of interfering in its internal affairs.

Hostilities between the archrivals have increased since September 2016, when India accused Pakistan of having links to gunmen who killed 19 soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars � in 1948, 1965 and 1971 � two of them over Kashmir.

Apart from Kashmir, the two neighbors have been locked in a string of land and sea disputes.

Earlier this year Pakistan announced a celebration of the Sikh founder's 550th birthday in 2019 at the state level in Nankana Sahib, his birthplace.

Following Islamabad's move, New Delhi on Monday also announced it would celebrate the event, inviting Pakistan's Sikh community to attend festivities set to begin next November.

- Window dressing

Some analysts, however, see the development as mere optics.

This should not be taken as more than a gesture for India, mainly the Sikhs. There is no call for euphoria or optimism in the context of Indo-Pak relations, Shamshad Ahmad Khan, a former foreign secretary of Pakistan, told Anadolu Agency.

The move, he said, was a calculated policy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist government to put maximum pressure on Pakistan, taking advantage of anti-terrorism sentiment in the post-9/11 world.

This is aimed at forcing Pakistan to withdraw from its stand on Kashmir, he said.

Former Secretary Khan, who was part of the first-ever composite dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad in June 1997, sees no immediate chance for restarting stalled talks between the two countries.

"This would only be possible after there's a change from the Modi government, as he does not seem to be in a mood to accept any olive branch, he added.

Jabbar Khan, an Islamabad-based political and security analyst, thinks that New Delhi will continue to pursue its offensive foreign policy against Islamabad despite the Kartarpur development.

This offensive policy suits the incumbent nationalist government because its popularity revolves around anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiments. They will stick to that, Jabbar Khan told Anadolu Agency.

Confirming Jabbar Khan's views, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced that the opening of the Kartarpur crossing did not mean improving relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.

"Until and unless Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, there will be no dialogue, she said on Wednesday.

Source: Anadolu Agency