• Makes history by inaugurating Kartarpur corridor
• Former prime minister Manmohan Singh among guests from across the border who attend gurdwara opening ceremony
KARTARPUR: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor, which would allow thousands of Sikhs in India to visit their second holiest site without visa each day, and said time was ripe to end hatred between Pakistan and India that had been nurtured over the past seven decades.
Speaking at a ceremony that was attended by a delegation of eminent Sikhs from India — including former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, actor Sunny Deol and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu — besides hundreds of common Sikhs, Mr Khan said he was more than happy to open the Kartarpur Corridor.
Under an agreement signed by the two nuclear-armed neighbours, at least 5,000 Sikhs will be able to come to Kartarpur from Gurdaspur in India using the visa-free corridor between dawn and dusk each day.
Earlier, Mr Khan arrived at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur by bus, where he greeted the Indian guests. He embraced Mr Sidhu, who said the prime minister would be remembered by 140 million Sikhs across the world for all times to come for helping them realise their dream.
Once inside the gurdwara, PM Khan put on a headscarf and sat on the floor with other guests.
In his speech on the occasion, he thanked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for opening the corridor on the Indian side.
Referring to his stance that Pakistan would take two steps forward if India took one, the prime minister endorsed Congress leader Sidhu’s call for opening the border and initiating trade in order to defeat poverty and bring prosperity to the subcontinent.
He said only the resolution of the decades-old Kashmir dispute could turn around the fate of the subcontinent that was struggling to defeat poverty. “Time is not far away when the Kashmiris will get their due rights, enmities will die down and prosperity will dawn across the subcontinent,” Mr Khan said.
He urged Narendra Modi to grant justice to Kashmiris so that all peoples across the subcontinent could live in peace. “Peaceful relations and trade between our two countries can bring prosperity to the entire region,” he said.
Asserting that injustices would only lead to more conflicts and abject poverty, Mr Khan stressed that both Pakistan and India should behave as good neighbours and resolve the core issue through dialogue.
He said the dispute over occupied Kashmir had become more of a human rights issue than merely a territorial one. “After assuming the office of prime minister, I had called upon the Indian premier, asking why the chronic Kashmir issue could not be resolved. However, the reverse is happening in Kashmir, where Indian forces are suppressing the rights of eight million people,” Mr Khan said.
The relations between India and Pakistan had turned sour because the Indian government had suppressed the rights that had been granted to the Kashmiris through the UN resolutions. “Leaders bring people closer and promote opportunities to make them prosperous and happy,” he said.
Mr Sidhu said his one hug (with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa) had done wonders. He was ready to give more hugs if they could help resolve the problems people were facing.
The former cricketer also thanked Mr Modi for opening the corridor and offered a “Munna Bhai MBBS-style hug” to him.
Saying that Mr Khan had opened the corridor not for political gains but purely for humanity, Mr Sidhu said the Sikhs across the world would become his spokespersons.
He said what his community had been waiting for since the last seven decades the Pakistan government led by Mr Khan had done in a matter of 10 months.
He urged the prime minister to announce the opening of the border and trade with India. “It will be wonderful, if people come from Amritsar to Lahore, do business, enjoy biryani and return home in the evening,” he said.
For his part, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan had opened two corridors — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for economic development and Kartarpur to promote peace and love. He urged the world to seriously consider and find out who was sowing seeds of hatred and endangering peace in the region. He said the UN resolutions were awaiting justice in occupied Kashmir.
Mr Qureshi said PM Khan had identified 400 temples for their renovation and upkeep in a bid to show to the world the respect the Pakistanis had for Hinduism and Hindus.
Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar and Chief Minister Usman Buzdar were also present on the occasion.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2019