There are several reasons behind Pakistan’s offers to provide a visa-free ‘Kartarpur Coridor’ for Sikh pilgrims and “peace talks” with India: Their terror proxies are being hit very hard in Jammu & Kashmir, the US has refused to continue supplying them monetary dole and Pakistan’s global image is at the lowest ever. By pushing for the corridor and peace talks, while actively continuing its anti-India terrorist operations, Pakistan’s leadership thinks it can fool people and score brownie points.
The elimination of over 230 terrorists in the Kashmir Valley till November 2018, including nine of the 12 “commanders” of terrorist groups, leaving only three commanders and 250 terrorists still at large has caused frustration to organizers of terrorist operations in Pakistan and their minions in Kashmir, like Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
November 2018 was the bloodiest month, with 40 terrorists killed. Some top terrorist “commanders” eliminated by the Army in Budgam were young, educated but deadly after radicalization at the hands of ISI and Kashmiri separatists. Among them was Naveed Jatt of the LeT, who murdered journalist Shujaat Bukhari and other innocent civilians. Others included Manan Wani, Altaf Kachroo, Umar Ganai, Waseem Wagay, Adil Lone and Basit Mir.
The three surviving ‘commanders’ are Hizbul Mujahideen's (HM) operational commander Riyaz Naikoo, Al-Badr commander Zeenat-ul Islam and Lateef Tiger, who was an associate of Burhan Wani and Zakir Musa, chief of Ansar-ul-Gazwat-ul-Hind.
Senior police officers quoted in the media stated, "In the past two months, there has been no recruitment, but before that youth were joining militancy….No doubt that the militancy in Kashmir has received a major dent this year. This is the first time since 2007 that such a huge number of militants were killed in a year…But fact remains that unless infiltration stops from across the LoC, militancy can't be wiped out from Kashmir soil.”
This has prompted the Pakistan army to simultaneously seek peace talks and target Kashmiris serving in the Indian Army and J&K Police. The latest Kashmiri victim was Lance Naik Nazir Ahmed Wani, twice awarded the Sena Medal for bravery. Wani, an erstwhile terrorist, renounced terrorism and shunned it to assist the Army in anti-terrorist operations in the Valley. His great courage and knowledge of the countryside and terrorist outfits contributed to many successes. In January 2004, he was enrolled in the J&K Light Infantry’s 162nd Territorial Army battalion and was serving in the Rashtriya Rifles.
Reverses in the Valley have driven the ISI to renew operations in Punjab and the Northeast. In the Northeast, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), has been revitalized. ULFA (I) under Paresh Barua has been active recently with its signature kidnappings and killings. In October 2018, at least three senior tea gardens staffers were abducted by ULFA from Assam’s Charaideo and Tinsukia districts in Assam and Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh. In early November 2018, five persons were shot dead by suspected ULFA (I) militants in Tinsukia district. Barua, in a recent interview, said he was getting “international” assistance and mentioned that Pakistan has good “international connections.”
ISI’s connections with ULFA go back to the early 1990s, when ULFA arranged for ISI to enter India’s Northeast and establish contacts with Naga and Meitei insurgent-turned terrorist groups. In September this year, police arrested members of a group in Hojai trying to set up a Hizbul Mujahideen base in Assam.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi allegedly ‘lost’ 23 passports of Indian nationals (out of 3800 issued visas recently) wanting to go on a pilgrimage to Kartarpur. This is disturbing but not surprising. Indian agencies probing the matter asked Ministry of External Affairs to cancel these passports as they apprehend that Pakistan would misuse these passports against India later. The Pakistan High Commission has earlier been blamed not just for espionage but also for giving visas to persons from J&K to go to Pakistan for terror training.
A series of controversies have arisen related to the Kartarpur corridor. On December 3, Pakistan’s President Arif-ur-Rehman Alvi called the Kartarpur corridor move a 'great chaal' (strategy). This after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said India had been stumped with a “googly” from Pakistan.
Alvi said, "This is a very good strategic move. If you know how to play chess, nowadays people don't play it, but if you know the game then there are chaals (strategies). Player analyzes opponent's next move and then decides his next chaal. Kartarpur was a great chaal."
On December 9, the Pakistan High Commission said it had issued visas to 139 Indian pilgrims to visit Katas Raj Dham, a Shiva temple, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Under the framework of the 1974 bilateral protocol on visits to religious shrines, Sikh and Hindu pilgrims from India visit Pakistan and Pakistani pilgrims visit India annually.
Pakistan’s offer of the Kartarpur corridor, closely following a series of events, spread not only over the Kashmir Valley, but Punjab and the Northeast, again exposes that country's duplicity. While India decided to make a corridor to the International Boundary, to join Pakistan’s corridor leading to the Kartarpur Saheb gurudwara, in deference to the hopes of millions of Sikhs, it firmly turned down yet another Pakistani overture for “peace talks”.
The corridor offer was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the heinous November 26, 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai by the Lashkar e Taiyyaba (LeT), planned, organized and directed by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Instead of proceeding against the guilty, the Pakistan government has not only protected but even allowed them to contest elections.
Shehryar Afridi, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, even reportedly declared, "As long as we (the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf) are in government, all those including Hafiz Saeed, who are raising voices for Pakistan and righteousness, we are with them.”
Such irresponsible statements only strengthen India’s resolve to spurn Pakistan’s call for talks.
(The author, a strategic analyst, is a former Ministry of Defence and Indian Army spokesman. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)