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Indian FM says can't attend Kartarpur ceremony due to 'prior commitments', but other ministers will

Updated November 24, 2018

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Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) and  Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. — AFP/File
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. — AFP/File

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday promptly responded to her Pakistani counterpart's invitation to the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor, saying she cannot attend the event due to "prior commitments".

Thanking Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the invitation, Swaraj said in a letter sent to the Foreign Office: "Due to my prior commitments, including election campaign scheduled in the state of Telangana on that day, I would not be able to travel to Kartarpur Sahib."

She did, however, say that India's Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Shri Hardeep Singh Puri will attend the event as Government of India's representatives.

"It is our hope that the Government of Pakistan will expedite the construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respects at the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible," the letter further stated.

With four days remaining till the historic groundbreaking of the Kartarpur corridor for Sikh pilgrims, Qureshi had announced earlier today that he has extended an invitation to Swaraj to attend the ceremony.

According to a tweet by Qureshi, an invitation was also sent to the chief minister of India's Punjab province, Capt Amarinder Singh, and Indian cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.

The ceremony will be held on Wednesday, November 28 and the groundbreaking will be performed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to an earlier tweet by the foreign minister.

According to a statement issued by the Foreign Office, the foreign minister said "Pakistan's positive attitude and sincerity of intentions are there for the world to see".

Qureshi in the statement also issued a reminder that Prime Minister Khan in his inaugural speech had invited India to sit down for talks and the policy is still in place today.

In a rare positive development in Pakistan-India ties, New Delhi had on Thursday accepted an offer by Islamabad about building a new border crossing and road connecting their respective Punjab provinces, making it easier for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit a religious site in Pakistan.

The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in Indian Punjab's Gurdaspur to Kartarpur in Pakistan's Narowal district where the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib — the shrine of revered saint Baba Guru Nanak — is situated, according to the Times of India.

Take a look: The legacy of Guru Nanak lives on in four historic gurdwaras in Punjab

Had Swaraj attended the ceremony, it would have marked the minister's first visit to Pakistan since the PTI government coming into power.

Qureshi and Swaraj were previously scheduled to hold talks along the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in September.

Just a day after confirming the meeting, however, New Delhi had called it off, citing "unclean intentions" on Pakistan's side.

While addressing a National Assembly session on Friday, Foreign Minister Qureshi had reiterated that dialogue was the only way forward towards the resolution of all outstanding disputes with India, Radio Pakistan reported.