Kartarpur bridge

Delhi must not snub Pakistan offer to reopen corridor — project is in India’s interests, it has more reasons not to walk away now.

In the wake of a bruising spv vs spy row, and in the week when Delhi asked the Pakistan High Commission to reduce the strength of its diplomatic mission in India by half, announcing that it would do the same at its mission in Islamabad, it was hardly expected that Pakistan’s next move would be an apparent handshake. Its offer to reopen Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur from today for Indian pilgrims on the occasion of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary — it was shut down on March 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — appears to have caught Delhi by surprise. The ministry of external affairs has said two days is too short a notice, and has also described the offer as a “mirage of goodwill”. But concerns about a feint, or of being blindsided by the move, if indeed that is the case, are no reason to reject the proposal altogether.

Despite the controversies that have surrounded it from the start, and Delhi’s abiding suspicion that it is a deceptive ploy by Pakistan to exploit the alleged Khalistan chink in India’s security armour, the “Kartarpur Corridor” agreement is a rare India-Pakistan agreement that has proved to be workable even with the bilateral surround sound at its worst. In fact, India was quick to join the initiative, and through the ups and downs of 2019, its inauguration last November was miracle-like. That is because howsoever important it was for Pakistan, and whatever its reasons to push the Kartarpur corridor project, it has been as much in India’s interests to be part of it.

Now, there are even more reasons not to walk away from it. Accepting Pakistan’s Kartarpur offer would help to keep one bridge with Pakistan intact, considering that most others have been steadily eroded or completely destroyed. This current moment, when India is facing a military crisis against China in Ladakh, after 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in a clash with Chinese soldiers, is hardly the time to worsen relations with a neighbour, even a difficult one. Second, it would telegraph India’s intention and determination to keep its relations with the two countries separate despite their apparent efforts to make common cause over Ladakh and Kashmir. Third, and equally important, Pakistan probably expects India to spurn the offer. Accepting it would deprive Islamabad of the opportunity to go to town with the cry that India has once again rejected Pakistan’s hand of friendship. Security officials in Punjab know the drill already, and should be able to ensure there are no slip-ups. The concern that remains is of pilgrims bringing the coronavirus infection back with them. This should worry Pakistan, too, about incoming pilgrims. But both sides know by now what the preventive measures are, and how to put them in place.

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