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Posted at: Dec 2, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: Dec 2, 2018, 12:06 AM (IST)

Divided by religion, united by religion

Shahzad Raza
Shahzad Raza
People had thought Sidhu’s infamous hug would cost him dearly, but it has transpired into a religious victory. What Vajpayee couldn’t do, a cricketer has managed to
Divided by religion, united by religion

Shahzad Raza

The most sellable commodity in both India and Pakistan may not be ‘Tata Namak’ or ‘Tapal Chai’, but religion and religion alone. It sells, and it can sell anything, including peace and war. While several people on either side of the border became euphoric with the opening of Kartarpur corridor, hardly anyone considered it worth debating whether relations between the two states should be based on delivering religious happiness. Instead of taking pride, leaders from both sides of the working boundary should be doing some soul-searching for depriving people of their inherent right to visit their places of worship. We divided the subcontinent on the basis of religion. And now we are removing the barbed wires in the name of religion. What an irony!

Opening the Kartarpur corridor would benefit many people. Pilgrims from India would not only satiate their religious appetite, they would also taste the local delicacies that are, coincidentally, not so different from what is available in their own country. Local economy would somewhat improve. Security concerns would be taken care of by the border managers. Schoolchildren, who now hop back home, looking at empty fields would have fascinating sights of bearded guests in colourful turbans.

Politicians would certainly have a field day using useless adjectives and jargons to take the credit. Despite all those allegations and counter-allegations, the leadership of the two sides rubbed shoulders at the inaugural ceremony. The two countries cannot play cricket in each other’s territories. They cannot share a table at SAARC summits, but Pakistani leaders welcomed Indian leaders. The latter had no remorse coming to the country that they believe is behind the killing of their innocent civilians. No one remembered the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir or the alleged state-sponsored terrorism. Enough of this hypocrisy! People are done with the stalemate that has hampered everything for the past five decades or so.

The opening of the corridor had its hero as well: Navjot Singh Sidhu. People had thought that his infamous hug would cost him dearly, but it has transpired into a great religious victory. What a statesman like Vajpayee couldn’t do, a cricketer has managed to. Some analysts in Pakistan are pitching him as future chief minister of Indian Punjab. Beware, Captain Sahab!

Criticism aside, the decision would certainly benefit the people — whether religiously or economically. The nature of conflict between India and Pakistan is complex. Analysts fail to draw a comparison most of the time. People of India and Pakistan like each other, but the deep states don’t. France and Germany resolved their disputes after the worst annihilation. The post-World War II leaders were wise enough to push the rest button because they had seen the horrors of war. Pakistan and India fought wars too, but exploited the unfortunate events to brainwash the next generations or build their military prowess. The two countries would not resume full-scale bilateral dialogues just because they agreed to open a religious site. The Indian External Affairs Minister has already made this clear. In the run-up to 2019 elections in India, PM Modi cannot afford to annoy his right-wing voters.

What the two countries can build on in this opportune moment is to start opening more religious sites. They can ease visa regime for the pilgrims. After all, selling religion has very low side-effects, if the purpose is not butchering the beef-eaters or recruiting jihadis to liberate Kashmir.

— The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist


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