History is not going to be rewritten anytime soon but the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur border crossing, due Wednesday, is proof enough of popular sentiment’s ability to swing political opinion in its favour. The proposal, dead since 1988, was renewed by COAS General Bajwa in August this year and shared with Congress leader Navjot Siddhu when he came for Imran Khan’s oath taking ceremony. And what better way to greet this advance than Siddhu’s own position – in his letter to India’s foreign ministry requesting permission to partake in the groundbreaking – as he said “… the Kartarpur spirit can make pilgrims of us all, venturing out on a journey that breaks the barriers of history and opens the borders of the heart and the mind.”
The Indian response, however diplomatically reserved, is encouraging. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj cannot come, unfortunately, because of prior commitments but two ministers will still attend. This marks an interesting change in New Delhi’s position towards Pakistan; especially so close to their election. Sure, BJP retains its anti-Pakistan venom as the trump card on election day, but it seems public sentiment across the border has made the government change tactics, a little, just before the voting. It will not want to alienate its core conservative vote bank, no doubt about that, but the decision to indulge on the Kartarpur border shows that it does not want to ignore the growing bloc that favours a thaw either.
To say Pakistan and India stand at a crossroads is to state the obvious. Youth bulges on both sides, who have little understanding of the generations-old hatred that keeps the two governments at daggers drawn, need an environment of peace, commerce, growth, investment and jobs. And they have always warmed up to the historical enemy whenever given a chance, especially in the Confidence Building Measures of the Musharraf era that brought the two sides “within a signature of settling Sir Creek,” at least. At a time when Pakistan has promised “two steps for every one you take,” and the army chief is openly calling for reconciliation, and India offers condolence for our fallen in terrorist violence, there is an urgent need to turn these advances into an irresistible snowball.