The latest faux pas by leading Internet search engine Google has brought the recently inaugurated Kartarpur Corridor into limelight.
It was observed earlier this week that when keywords related to the ‘capital of Khalistan’ were entered in the Google search bar, the result was ‘Lahore’.
Indeed, where the historic city remains the undisputed capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, Google’s latest algorithmic mishap has led to a debate on the controversial Khalistan movement on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide.
And with the movement been linked by some to the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, Google’s gaffe will only add to the controversy surrounding the corridor, and indeed the Khalistan movement, especially given the current state of Indo-Pak relations.
The Kartarpur Corridor, a segment connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province with India, was inaugurated on November 12 to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The 4.7 km corridor allows Indian citizens, including pilgrims to visit visa Gurdwara Darbar Sahib visa-free.
Hyper-nationalist groups in India accuse the Kartarpur Corridor of being Pakistan’s strategy to rekindle the Khalistan Movement, which envisions an independent Sikh country that encompasses the Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Many feel that the Kartarpur Corridor’s inauguration on November 12, the day the Indian Supreme Court gave its verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, underlines the two contrasting directions Pakistan and India are undertaking.
Even so, the sympathy historically shown by some sections in Pakistan with the Khalistan movement, coupled with the movement representatives overseas being vocal in their support for Pakistan, has generated allegations of collaborations between the two, which have resurfaced following the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor.
However, where Google’s faux pas on Lahore might be shelved as an algorithm glitch – especially since it has been rectified over the past week – it still remains a firm reminder that the roots of the Khalistan movement lie in uniting the historical Punjab, which includes the current province of Punjab in Pakistan.
“In the past, Pakistan has apparently supported the Khalistan Movement. They haven’t done it formally, and there is no evidence of any material support, but when Rajiv Gandhi came here in 1989 for the SAARC conference, the then interior minister Aitzaz Ahsan was accused of providing lists of Sikhs [linked with the Khalistan Movement] to him,” says Lahore-based columnist and academic Wajahat Masood, the author of Mahaasray Ka Roznaamcha.
“There were no such lists, but this just goes to show how those close to the establishment – then the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – included the Khalistan Movement in its politics. But those were different times. India had launched a ruthless crackdown on its Sikh community. Times have changed now,” he adds.
Masood maintains that linking then Khalistan Movement to the Khalistan Movement in 2019 doesn’t make any sense.
“When Indian pilgrims come through the corridor and go back, they can only create goodwill. So it’s just a conspiracy theory because those days are gone. Anyone who believes in this conspiracy theory lives in fools’ paradise. I’ve lived in my country for half a century now. And since I was a kid I’ve been hearing about India disintegrating into sometimes 18 states, sometimes 22,” he adds.
Kashif Baloch, the editor of Sujag, an alternative media outlet, says that Lahore showing up as the capital of Khalistan on Google is a reminder of how Pakistani narrative builders often get carried away in their religionist rallying.
“It’s a funny situation. Funny because it’s similar to the dreams of ‘Neel ke sahil se le kar ta ba Khaak-i-Kashgar’ [the envisioned unity of Muslims ‘from the shores of the Nile to the sands of Kashgar’]. It’s just the latest example of how we ignore ground realities in our religionist narratives against India,” he says.
“Given the rise of India’s right-wing and the state violence, one can understand the concern of Sikhs and even their dream of Khalistan. And in this regard, their affiliation with their religious identity is also understandable, but our support [to the movement] makes no sense. Unfortunately, the roots of Pakistan’s obsession is rooted in the Two-Nation Theory,” adds, Baloch who hails from the southern Punjab city of Multan.
Baloch also questions why other border regions aren’t being united through corridors like the eastern and western Punjab.
“It just shows the strength of the Punjabi elite in Pakistan. But while we support those on the other side of Punjab, unfortunately, we won’t learn from their creation of separate provinces within original East Punjab,” he adds.
International relations analyst and author of Humanity Amidst Insanity: Hope During and After the Indo-Pak Partition Tridivesh Singh Maini says looking at Kartarpur Corridor merely from the lens of security and thinking that it will lead to the revival of the Khalistan movement is over-the-top and simplistic.
“Sikh Jathas visit Pakistan every year, there are banners in favour of Khalistan even during their visits whether for the Gurpurab of Guru Nanak Sahib or Baisakhi. The Kartarpur Corridor will be used by Sikhs and other followers of Guru Nanak Sahib, from Panjab (India). Most of them are interested in paying obeisance, interacting with their Punjabi brethren from across the border – if they get an opportunity. Punjab (India) apart from religious and cultural links would also welcome closer trade ties which would benefit the economy of the state and create new opportunities,” he says.
“To believe that the corridor will lead to the revival militancy is unfair not just because it ignores the religious sentiments of the Sikhs, who have been praying for access to religious shrines in Pakistan, ever since partition, but it also questions their loyalty and ability to think for themselves. By excessively raising the Khalistan issue and hyphenating Kartarpur with Khalistan, some fringe groups abroad who have minimal support are getting unnecessary publicity,” Maini adds.