ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India were almost on the brink of war in 2019 following the Pulwama terror attack that killed dozens of CRPF soldiers and prompted India to carry out air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan, but the year ended on a somewhat positive note as they inaugurated a historic corridor to facilitate the visa-free visit of Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur.
Imran Khan’s rise to power in August 2018 prompted exchange of pleasantries between the cricketer-turned politician and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But a lot happened in the intervening months that not only deepened the perennial enmity but brought the two sides to the brink of war.
The brief spell of goodwill was broken by a deadly attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14, 2019 by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group that killed 44 CRPF soldiers. India blamed Pakistan and vowed revenge, though the former rejected allegations.
On February 26, Indian fighter jets entered deep inside Pakistan and bombed JeM terror camps in Balakot. It was for the first time that Indian jets entered inside Pakistan to drop bombs after the 1971 War.
The air strike was followed by an aerial combat between air forces of the two countries on February 27 when Pakistan jets entered India. While chasing Pakistani jet an Indian Air Force jet crashed in Pakistan occupied Kashmir following which its injured pilot was captured.
For a moment, it appeared that the worst moment in the hostility of the two nations has just arrived. But sanity prevailed and Pakistan quickly announced to release the Indian pilot and the two sides walked back from the cliff.
As tempers were still high amidst elections in India, Khan said in an interview in April that the two countries would make strides towards peace if Prime Minister Modi won elections.
Sometimes wishes come true. Modi won and the two countries agreed to sit together to discuss an agreement to formalize the movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur without visas.
While the ice melted and the process of engaging with each other was being rebooted, Modi government made a move to make good on some of the election promises, including one about ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
The strained ties between India and Pakistan further nose-dived following the abrogation of article 370 in August that revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The move angered Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties with India and expelled the Indian High Commissioner.
Pakistan also snapped all air and land links with India and suspended trade and railways ties.
Doubts were also expressed about the fate of the landmark Kartarpur corridor that the two sides had promised to open before the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism.
Despite their verbal duels, the corridor was operationalised on time.
In November, Pakistan and India separately inaugurated the historic Kartarpur corridor on their sides of the border. Unfortunately, the goodwill generated by it could not be channelised into building trust and end the lock-jam in bilateral ties.
The corridor provides the shortest route to Indian Sikh pilgrims to the revered Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of Pakistan’s Narowal district, where Guru Nanak spent last 18 years of his life.
Closer towards the end of the 2019, India passed controversial Citizenship law, giving ammunition to Prime Minister Khan who launched fresh assault on his Indian counterpart and warned of a looming refugee crisis in South Asia due to the steps taken by the BJP-led Indian government, a claim rejected by India.
The year also saw the two countries fighting a legal battle in the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the issue of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national facing death sentence in Pakistan. The verdict failed to change anything on ground except that India got much sought consular access. Pakistan had repeatedly denied the consular access to India.
Pakistan also witnessed political turmoil in 2019, with a series of crackdown on opposition leaders, including former president Asif Ali Zardari and the Sharif family members, prompting opposition to launch street protests against Prime Minister Khan whom they called “Gorbachev of Pakistan”.
Three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was in jail after being convicted on corruption charges, was allowed to travel abroad for treatment after his health deteriorated.
Former military dictator and architect of the Kargil War in 1999, retired General Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death by a special court. He is the first military ruler to receive the capital punishment in Pakistan’s history.
His sentencing angered the country’s powerful army, which has ruled the country for nearly half of its 72-year history. The army said its former chief can “never be a traitor”.
In October, Pakistan witnessed its worst train accident in over a decade when a passenger train caught fire while travelling from Karachi to Rawalpindi, killing 75 passengers. A 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck regions of Pakistan with an epicenter in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September, causing the deaths of 40 people and injuring 850 others.
The outgoing year with several lows and highs in Indo-Pak ties solidify the fact that the mistrust between the two countries is deeper than perceived.
As the sun sets on 2019, the two neighbours are poised to walk into 2020 with the same mistrust instead of making a break with the past and starting with a clean slate.
Source: Economic Times