Major development in South Asia
PM Imran inaugurates historic corridor, says ‘a leader does not spread hatred and canvasses votes on basis of religion’
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday inaugurated the historic Kartarpur Corridor for the followers of Guru Nanak, allowing them to visit the revered Sikh Guru’s final resting place without a visa.
The 3-kilometre corridor provides visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims, allowing them to travel to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the final years of his life.
Welcoming the Sikh pilgrims to Kartarpur at the start of his address, Prime Minister Imran said, “First of all, I congratulate the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak and welcome you all.”
He also paid tribute to the government team for completing the Kartarpur project in a matter of months. “I salute you all. I had no idea you were so efficient. That means we can do so much more,” he told the government officials.
“I am always so happy to see the Sikh community who have come here. God lives in the hearts of all of us. All the messengers who have come and gone only ever brought two messages, that of peace and justice.
“I am happy we could do this for you,” he told the thousands of Sikh pilgrims. “Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago that this is the Medina for the Sikhs of the world,” he said.
Prime Minister Imran noted that the lessons that can be drawn from Guru Nanak’s teachings are about bringing people together and not to spread hate.
“A leader will always bring people together and will not divide them. A leader does not spread hatred and canvasses votes on the basis of religion,” said the prime minister in a veiled reference to India PM Modi.
Referring to the issue of Kashmir, the prime minister said he had suggested to Modi to resolve the issue. “What we are witnessing in Kashmir today, it is not an international issue anymore. It has escalated to a humanitarian crisis.”
“Unfortunately things have gotten even worse for the people of Kashmir. The way they [Kashmiris] are being kept like animals. Their rights have been snatched away which the UNSC gave them,” he said.
He further said the subcontinent will only progress when the issue of Kashmir is resolved. “And, God willing, that day is not far.”
“These two things distinguish us from the animal kingdom,” he said.
He continued: “The first thing I did after becoming the prime minister was to tell [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi that poverty is our mutual problem, and the way to deal with it is to open our borders to people and trade.
“I met Manmohan Singh during a conference and I remember when he was the PM he had said that ‘the entire South Asia can rise if we solve Kashmir’. And that’s what I told Modi.
“If Modi is listening, [he should know that] justice brings peace and injustice spreads confusion.
“Let’s rid ourselves of this problem,” he told Modi, referring to the Kashmir dispute. “So we can live like humans.
“Imagine the happiness that will spread and how we will be able to pull people out of poverty.
“I have hope that this is the beginning. One day our relations with India will be such that would have been had the issue of Kashmir been resolved in the beginning (at Partition).
“I also foresee a day when the hatred that has spread in the sub-continent over the past 70 years due to this dispute [will be no more].
“When this problem is solved and Kashmiris get their rights, the sub-continent will see prosperity and our entire region will rise in the world, and I pray that day is not far,” he concluded.
‘You’ve won hearts’
Addressing the ceremony before PM Imran, former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu thanked the Pakistani PM for taking the bold step to build the Kartarpur Corridor “without looking at gains or losses”.
“You have won hearts,” he said while addressing the premier.
Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri in his address said the opening of the Kartapur Corridor is “the biggest message of peace and love” since Partition.
“Imran Khan, the promise you had made to the millions of Sikhs has been fulfilled. And I congratulate Sardar Navjot Singh as it was you who brought this idea to the prime minister.
“Baba Guru Nanak spent the last days of his life here. He spent his life bringing people together and spreading the message of love.
“In your last days here you continued to spread the message of oneness, truth, peace. His teachings carry the lessons of humanity and its well-being.
“This was the prime minister’s personal interest and his commitment,” he said, adding that he prayed Prime Minister Imran will be rewarded by God for winning people’s hearts.
‘Doors Of Kartarpur Have Been Opened’
Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in his address gave the credit for the project coming to fruition to Prime Minister Imran and the government team.
“The doors of Kartarpur have been opened for you,” the foreign minister said while addressing members of the Sikh community across the world.
He said the message of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev was one of peace and love, but “seeds of hate are being sown” in the region.
“If the Berlin Wall can be demolished, if the Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the temporary boundary of the Line of Control can also be ended,” Qureshi said, adding that the promise of granting the right of self-determination to the people of occupied Kashmir can also be fulfilled.
He asked Indian Prime Minister Modi, who had earlier in the day thanked Prime Minister Imran, whether he will also give his Pakistani counterpart the chance to thank him.
“You can do so,” he told Modi, “by lifting the curfew in occupied Kashmir, ending the use of pellet guns, ending the violations of human rights [and] by ending the communication blackout”.
Manmohan leads Sikh delegation
Sikhs from across the border started arriving in Pakistan on Saturday to make a historic pilgrimage to the shrine of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, which is located in Kartarpur.
Prime Minister Imran arrived at the corridor inauguration ceremony using the shuttle service being used by pilgrims.
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh led the first delegation of Sikh pilgrims as they crossed into Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor. Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was also part of the jatha (caravan).
“I hope India and Pakistan relations improve enormously as a result of this beginning,” Manmohan told PTV as he walked towards the Pakistan side, terming the occasion a “big moment”.
The Indian Punjab chief minister said they were all happy because it had been a desire of Sikhs to visit their religious sites in Pakistan for 70 years.
“This is a beginning, I hope it’s going to continue and many more gurdwaras are going to be allowed,” he remarked.
Modi thanks Imran
Before seeing off the first group of pilgrims, Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed members of the Sikh community and hailed the opening of the corridor.
“I also thank Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for understanding India’s wishes and turning Kartarpur into reality,” Modi said in his speech. He also thanked the labour in both countries for completing the construction in such a short time.
The Indian premier said that Baba Guru Nanak was not just a revered figure for Sikhs but for the entire humanity.
About 8,000-10,000 pilgrims are expected to arrive from around the world to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on November 12.
The premier had performed the groundbreaking of the visa-free corridor last year. Since then, the government has employed hundreds of labourers to spruce up the shrine, including building a border immigration checkpoint and a bridge, as well as expanding the site’s grounds. After tough negotiations between Islamabad and New Delhi, Pakistan and India had finally signed an agreement regarding the project last month.
Ahead of the opening, the prime minister also announced special waivers in order to facilitate Indian pilgrims. Pilgrims who arrive from India will no longer need a passport to cross over into Pakistan as long as they have a valid identity.
The premier had also announced that he had directed that the condition for pilgrims to register 10 days before their arrival at the Kartarpur shrine be waived.
Furthermore, the pilgrims who arrive on the day of the Kartarpur Corridor’s opening and on Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary will not be charged any fee to visit.
Up to 5,000 Indian Sikhs have been allowed access daily, with plans to eventually double the capacity.