Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated yesterday the historic Kartarpur Corridor for the followers of Guru Nanak, allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the revered Sikhism leader’s final resting place in Pakistan without a visa.
The 3km 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.
The prime minister welcomed the Sikh community to Kartarpur at the start of his address.
“First of all, I congratulate the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, and welcome you all. I pay tribute to those who made this dream possible,” Khan said.
Praising Indian former cricketer and current parliamentarian Navjot Singh Sidhu’s passionate address before him, the premier said that he is extremely happy for the global Sikh community.
“All religions teach us two things: justice and love,” Khan said during the inauguration ceremony. “I only got to know a year ago regarding the importance of Kartarpur Sahib. This is the Madinah for the Sikhs of the world.”
He added in a veiled reference to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi: “A leader will always bring people together and will not divide them. A leader does not spread hatred and canvasses votes on the basis religion.”
Referring to the issue of Indian-administered 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.”
Khan further said the India-Pakistan subcontinent will only progress when the issue of Kashmir is resolved. “And, God willing, that day is not far.”
The prime minister, who arrived earlier using the shuttle service used by Sikh pilgrims, greeted the Indian delegation shortly after his arrival at the venue.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi opened the ceremony and welcomed all those who had come to attend the historic occasion.
He congratulated the global Sikh community, saying that the inauguration is a historic occasion and that credit goes to Prime Minister Khan for his efforts to make the corridor a reality.
“We welcome you with open hearts and arms. Come from the world over and witness the hospitality of the Pakistani nation,” the minister told the pilgrims. “Baba Guru Nanak gave a message of peace and love. It is the seeds of love planted by Baba Guru Nanak that have blossomed today.”
Indian cricketer turned politician Sidhu lauded Prime Minister Khan’s Kartarpur initiative: “This is the first prime minister, a lion, who did not care about benefit or loss, and made the Kartarpur dream a reality for the millions of Sikhs around the world.”
“My friend Imran turned our dream into reality in just 10 months. You have won hearts,” he declared to cheers from those present.
Indian Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the corridor on his country’s side and saw off the first Sikh pilgrims to travel to the temple.
Wearing a saffron turban in the Sikh style, Modi in a speech thanked all associated with the corridor, including Khan, “for understanding Indian sentiments”.
The hundreds of Indian pilgrims included members of the India’s opposition Congress Party, but there was no representation from India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh led a delegation of pilgrims as they crossed the international border.
He was accompanied by Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
“I hope India and Pakistan relations improve as a result of this beginning,” the former Indian prime minister told Pakistani state broadcaster PTV.
Amarinder Singh said that the entire Sikh community is very happy as it has been their wish to visit the religious site for 70 years.
“I hope this is the beginning, and (access to) many more gurdwaras are going to be allowed,” he said.
“The founder of Sikhism was born here. This is our real home,” said Surpreet Singh, a 32-year-old pilgrim from New Delhi on his first visit to Pakistan.
“I have wanted to come here for a long time. The people here are very friendly – they are familiar to us,” he added as Pakistani and Indian Sikhs, who wore different lanyards, mingled inside the temple complex.
Prime Minister Khan, in his message earlier, noted the significance of the event for the Sikh community could be well understood by the Muslims who have visited the holy place.
“Today we are not only opening the border but also our hearts for the Sikh community,” said the premier.
The inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor is a manifestation of the fact that our hearts are always open for the followers of different religions as enjoined by our great religion and envisioned by our Father of the Nation,” the prime minister said.
The premier further said Pakistan believes that inter-faith harmony and peaceful co-existence would be in the best interests of the people of the sub-continent.
Around 12,000 Sikhs from 68 countries, including the United States,
Britain, Australia, Canada and India participated in the inauguration ceremony.
The Kartarpur Corridor was first proposed in early 1999 by then-prime ministers of Pakistan and Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Intermittent souring of relations between India and Pakistan pushed it to the back-burner until it gained momentum in 2018 as Nanak’s 550th anniversary neared.
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