–PM Imran lays foundation for 4-km-long corridor connecting Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, India, with Gurdwara Kartarpur Darbar Sahib in Narowal
–Renews offer of peace talks to India, says people of both countries want to see closer ties between neighbouring countries
–Says all Pakistani institutions, including army, on same page for ‘civilised relationship’ with India
–Indian ministers make emotional speeches, one says if Berlin Wall can crumble, then so can ‘wall of hatred between India and Pakistan’
NAROWAL: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday performed the groundbreaking of a four-kilometre-long Kartarpur corridor amid much fanfare in a ceremony attended by a number of dignitaries, including Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Indian Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur, India, with Gurdwara Kartarpur Darbar Sahib on the banks of River Ravi in Narowal district to allow visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims for visiting their holy site.
A Rangers contingent received the Indian delegation, comprising ministers, as they crossed into Pakistan.
Indian Minister for Food Harsimrat Kaur Badal described the ceremony as “emotional moment” for her, while India’s Minister for Housing Hardeep S. Puri described the visit as “the most momentous journey” in his life.
Furthermore, senior officials from both countries and a number of foreign diplomats were also present at the occasion.
PM SEEKS PEACE:
Addressing the ceremony that included a large number Sikh pilgrims, PM Khan welcomed all “the guests, our Sikh brothers and sisters who have come from all around the world” and renewed Pakistan’s peace offer to India.
“Pakistan will take two steps if India takes one toward peace,” he reiterated.
He appreciated the joy on the faces of the pilgrims as he likened their Gurdwara visits to Muslims’ pilgrimage to Makkah.
“The happiness I see in you today, if I were to explain to my Muslim brother and sisters, is that imagine that you are standing 4km outside Madina and cannot go in, and you are then given the chance to go. That is the happiness I see here.”
“We will keep improving Kartarpur corridor and next year you will see all facilities will be available there,” he assured the pilgrims.
The PM said that people from both sides want peace and leaderships of the two countries should respect their wishes.
“War is not an option between nuclear-armed states,” the PM said, adding that all issues, including that of Kashmir, can be resolved through “political will and determination”.
“It’s time to move on, else we will remain stuck in the past,” he said, adding that both sides needed to “stop blaming each other as there had been mistakes on both sides”. Instead of sulking about them, we need to learn from our mistakes, he said, adding that if Germany and France could do it despite a number of wars, then so can India and Pakistan.
The PM ruled out the possibility of Pakistani Army’s disinclination to peace overtures with India, saying: “I am saying today, that our political leaders, our army, and all other institutions are all on one page. We wish to move forward, we want a civilised relationship. We have just one problem, Kashmir. If man can walk on the moon, what problems are there that we cannot resolve?” he asked.
He said he wanted better relations with India to overcome poverty by trade. “If we want to end poverty borders should be opened.”
The PM also mentioned Sidhu in his speech, who has visited Pakistan twice since Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) ascent to the top.
“I don’t know why Sidhu is being criticised for coming to Pakistan,” Imran wondered.
The premier joked that Sidhu had accumulated such a large fan following in Pakistan’s Punjab that if he ran in elections here, he would win. “I hope we don’t wait for him to become the prime minister for there to be peace between the two countries,” he hoped.
‘STEP TOWARDS PEACE’:
According to Gen Bajwa, the Kartarpur corridor is a step towards peace which our region needs.
“Corridors and Gates are for legal peaceful visitors. So is the case for all our neighbours,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) quoted the army chief as saying.
Navjot Sidhu took the stage amid loud applause and cheering.
In a speech delivered mostly in Punjabi, the cricketer-turned-politician said there has been enough bad blood, it is time peace prevails.
“India’s Constitution says there will be no discrimination on the basis of caste or creed. Baba Guru Nanak said this 549 years ago,” he said.
Sidhu said that if the borders between both countries opened, it would be possible to transport goods to different parts of Pakistan and even to others countries.
“This is my hope, this is my dream … While there is blood in my veins, I will continue to thank both governments,” he said.
‘DREAM COMES TRUE’:
An emotional Indian Minister for Food Harsimrat Kaur Badal said, “After 70 years, the dream of devotees has come true. So close, yet so far. Millions of Sikhs like me now have got an opportunity to be invited here to Gurdwara”.
“It is a historic day for Sikhs. History is being written. I had never imagined in my life that I will be a part of this historic moment. Distances are being erased today.” “If the Berlin wall can fall, then the wall of hate between India and Pakistan can also be taken down,” Badal said.
“Imran Khan’s government did what didn’t happen for 70 years,” she said, adding that the corridor will increase love between India and Pakistan.
‘FREE TO GO TO YOUR TEMPLES’:
“Today, we are standing where Baba Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life. Baba Guru Nanak spread a message of love and peace and I don’t think it is appropriate to associate him with any community or region,” said FM Qureshi in his address.
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state,” FM Qureshi quoted Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11 speech.
“For a peaceful South Asia, we have to take more steps such as the Kartarpur corridor. The whole world welcomed the decision to construct the corridor,” he said.
In a briefing to the attendees about the facilities which would be provided at the corridor, the government announced that it aimed to open the visa-free corridor on Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year.
In the first phase of the project, set to be completed before Nov 2019, a boarding terminal will be set up near the border besides arrangement of accommodation facilities for 10,000 pilgrims.
Transportation will be arranged to shuttle pilgrims possessing a special permit to the Gurdwara. An 800-metre-long bridge will also be built across River Ravi for this purpose.
Hotels and other accommodation facilities will be constructed to house pilgrims arriving with visas in the second phase.
A 300-metre track starting from the border will be built for pilgrims carrying special permits, after which a 4.5km road will also be constructed from the border terminal to the Gurdwara.
After receiving their permits, special transport will take the pilgrims to a parking area near the Gurdwara. Security posts will be set up to ensure the safety of pilgrims.
When the pilgrims reach the parking, biometric verification of their identities will be conducted, and then they will be able to enter the Gurdwara premises and worship freely within the specified time.
Pakistani Sikhs will need to carry travel documents and identification in order to enter the Gurdwara premises.
RENEWED PROPOSAL BY PAKISTAN:
Lying dormant due to the tense relations between the two countries since 1988, the proposal to construct the corridor providing visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims had been renewed by General Bajwa in August when Sidhu had visited Islamabad for Imran’s swearing-in.
As India agreed to open the corridor, Pakistan subsequently extended an invitation to Sushma Swaraj and others. However, Swaraj refused to join the event due to some “prior commitments”.