When Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was highlighting his ministry’s 100-days performance during an event held by the PTI government to mark its century of days in power, he referred to the opening of Kartarpur border crossing as a ‘googly’ bowled by Prime Minister Imran Khan which compelled the Indian government into sending two of their ministers to Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
However, the remark didn’t go down well with India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj who took to Twitter on Saturday and criticised Qureshi’s statement, saying “this shows that you have no respect for Sikh sentiments. You only play 'googlies'”.
She further clarified that it wasn’t the ‘googly’ that “trapped” India into sending their ministers to the groundbreaking ceremony. In fact, the “two Sikh Ministers went to Kartarpur Sahib to offer prayers in the Holy Gurudwara”, Sushma said.
Earlier this week, the prime minister had performed the groundbreaking of the long-awaited corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur area of Narowal district to Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district.
Initially, the Pakistan government had invited Swaraj, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu besides 17 Indian journalists to the Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony.
Editorial: Kartarpur opening
Though Swaraj and Amarinder Singh excused themselves from attending the ceremony, the Indian foreign minister nominated India's Minister for Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Shri Hardeep Singh Puri to attend the event. The two ministers, along with Sidhu, visited Pakistan to attend the ceremony marking the groundbreaking of Kartarpur border crossing.
However, when Qureshi termed these turn of events as a ‘googly’ which, according to the foreign minister, left the Indian government with no option to backtrack and compelled them into accepting Pakistan’s invitation to attend, Swaraj thought it best to issue a ‘clarification’.
It is pertinent to mention that while the Indian delegates were in Pakistan to attend the Kartarpur ceremony in Narowal, Swaraj had announced that India will not attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) conference "if it is held in Pakistan".
She had brushed off any possibility of improvement in relations between India and Pakistan, despite the opening of the Kartarpur crossing.
Responding to the criticism, Qureshi on Sunday termed Sushma’s comments “a deliberate attempt to misrepresent and mislead”.
The foreign minister said: “We have deep respect for Sikh sentiments and no amount of distortions or controversies would change it.”
He referred to the opening of Kartarpur border crossing as a “historic initiative [taken] in good faith”.
The Pakistan government has welcomed the opening of the corridor, calling it a "victory of peace".
"It is a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage the voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border," the federal information minister had said.
However, on Saturday the Foreign Office expressed its disappointment at the "relentless negative propaganda campaign" being "waged by a section of the Indian media against Pakistan" on the Kartarpur Corridor Initiative.
The ceremony held to mark the historic event and the speeches delivered there had come under severe criticism in certain sections of the Indian media — much to the "dismay" of the Foreign Office.
"We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the Sikh community — not only in India and Pakistan but also from across the globe," the Foreign Office said in a statement.
"The Government and people of Pakistan fully share their joy on this historic breakthrough and solemnly affirm that they will make every possible contribution to a befitting celebration of the auspicious occasion of Baba Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary in 2019."
The Foreign Office affirmed that it will not be deterred by unwarranted criticism from across the border.