Narowal - Ruling out the possibility of war between the two nuclear neighbours, Prime Minister Imran Khan Wednesday once again urged India to shun hostility and join hands with Pakistan for bringing the two nations out of poverty.

“We will not be able to move forward unless we break the shackles of the past and stop blaming each other,” the prime minister said while addressing the groundbreaking ceremony of Kartarpura corridor on Pak-India border in Narowal district.

“If Berlin Wall can fall, why India and Pakistan cannot make peace and settle their disputes”, Khan posed the question, expressing his desire to see both nations come together for mutual interest.

A good number of Sikh yatris from India and Pakistan attended the ceremony along with Indian Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Minister for Urban Development Hardeep S Puri, Indian Punjab Minister for Tourism and Culture Navjot Singh Sidhu, foreign diplomats and over two dozen Indian journalists. Officials put the number of Sikh yatris coming from India at 3720.

Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa did not attend the ceremony but he was present when the prime minister performed the ground breaking of the corridor.

It was General Bajwa who, on Navjot Sidhu’s request during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Khan in August this year, had hinted at the possibility of Pakistan opening the Kartarpura border for Sikh pilgrims next year on the occasion of Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

Before delivering his historic speech, Premier Imran Khan along with the Army Chief, performed the groundbreaking of the corridor connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpura town of Narowal district to Dera Baba Nanak town across the border in India’s Gurdaspur district.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Punjab Governor Ch Mohammad Sarwar, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi, Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri and several other dignities also witnessed the event besides the Indian guests.

Indian Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal poured Amrat Jal (holy water taken from the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar) on the ground to perform a ritual.

Through this four kilometre long corridor, Pakistan will give visa-free access to the Indian Sikhs intending to visit the burial place of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion.

Sending a clear message of peace across the border, Pakistani premier said that both India and Pakistan will have to get over the past bitterness and bury the hatchet to move forward on the path of peace and development.

He said that mistakes had been committed on both sides in the past but “past is only meant to learn lessons [from the mistakes] and not to live in it”.

Expressing his desire that India and Pakistan live like good neighbours, he said the two countries will have to take more particle steps like Kartarpura corridor to normalise their relations.

The prime minister in his speech cited the example of France and Germany, two bitter enemies of the past, who decided one day to end hostilities to make peace with each other.

He said millions of people lost their lives as a result of the wars between these two countries but today they could not thinking of waging war on each other. The two are now living peacefully as good neighbours and having vibrant trade ties, he pointed out.

In this context Imran also gave the example of China who pulled 70 million people of the poverty line by its ‘no war with neighbours’ policy.

The prime minister emphasised the need for opening up of Pak-India borders for bilateral trade. “The only way to end poverty from this region is to open our borders for trade” he said.

He also dispelled the impression that Pakistan army was the major obstacle in the way of making peace with India. He said whenever he visited India in the past to attend conferences he was told that Pakistan army was the main obstacle in the way friendship with India.

“Let me make it clear today on this occasion that Pakistan army, government, all state institutions and political parties are on the same page to normalise relations with India”, Khan maintained.

He also expressed his optimism about resolution of Kashmir dispute between the two countries, saying that only a strong political will and leadership was needed on both sides of the border to resolve this conflict. “World has reached the moon and we are still unable to settle our disputes”, he said.

The premier reiterated his earlier made pledge that if India took one step forward, Pakistan will take two.

“I assure you that we can solve the Kashmir problem [as well]. But determination and big dreams are necessary [for it]. Imagine the two countries begin trade, they both will benefit a lot [from it]”, he said.

Imran Khan also expressed his astonishment over the criticism being faced by his long time friend Navjot Singh Sidhu back in India after he visited Pakistan three months ago. “It is surprising to see a person being criticised just for talking about peace and brotherhood”, he said.

In a lighter vein, Khan said that Sidhu had such a large following in Pakistani Punjab that he could be elected [MNA] if he ran for elections.

With a large smile on his face, the prime minister said: “I hope we don’t have to wait until Sidhu becomes Indian prime minister to resolve our disputes.”

He appreciated the visible signs of happiness and joy on the faces of Indian Sikhs present there.

“The happiness I see on their faces today could be well explained if we look at this from an imaginary situation the Muslims may have to face in Saudi Arabia.

“[Suppose Pakistani] Muslim pilgrims visiting Saudi Arabia are stopped just four kilometres before Medina, and they are allowed to go ahead only after several years. That is the [kind of] happiness I see here now”, he explained.

The prime minister told the Sikh yatris that Pakistan will keep improving the Kartarpura darbar for them by extending more facilities. “When you come next year, we will provide you with all sorts of facilities,” he assured.

Addressing the ceremony, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi urged the need for more steps to be taken by India and Pakistan for durable peace in the region.

The foreign minister in his speech made special mention of the August 11, 1947 speech by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He quoted the following lines from his speech.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

Qureshi said the entire world had welcomed the decision to open the Kartarpura corridor on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. He informed the audience that although deliberations on the matter were underway since long, it was delayed due to ups and downs in Pak-India relations.

“We need more steps like this for peace in the South Asian region,” he said.

Indian Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu received loud applause from the audience as he came to deliver his speech - mostly in Punjabi and studded with Sufi poetry.

He pleaded that religion should be kept separate from terrorism and politics. Sidhu said that Indian constitution [also] gives guarantees that there will be no discrimination on the basis of caste or creed. “But Baba Guru Nanak had said the same 549 years ago” he added.

The Indian cricketer turned politician expressed the hope that the corridor would be helpful in bringing the people of two countries closer together. “I appreciate both the governments of Pakistan and India for the realisation this dream of 120 million Sikhs around the globe”.

Sidhu said that if the two countries open their borders, the Indian vegetables and rice will also reach the European countries passing through Pakistan. “This is my hope, this is my dream ... As long as there is blood in my veins, I will continue to thank both the governments,” he said.

Indian Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal delivered an emotional speech on the occasion.

“Never thought I would be here”, she said with tears in her eyes. “We have been so close and yet so far in the past 70 years,” she said, adding that at times the chanting of devotees here in Pakistan could be heard on the Indian side of the border.

Harsimrat said she had no friends, no relatives here [in Pakistan], and hence never thought of coming to this place. “It is all because of Guru Nanak’s Kirpa”, she added.

She believed this corridor will bring people together. MS Badal also appealed to Pakistan government to issue a postage stamp or coin to commemorate Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year.

Earlier, at the start of the event, a documentary was shown about the measures to be taken by the Pakistan government to facilitate Sikh pilgrims at Kartarpura.

It was informed that in the first phase of the project, a boarding terminal will be set up at the borer to shuttle pilgrims possessing a special permit to visit the Gurdwara.

An 800-metre-long bridge over the River Ravi will connect the two sides. Moreover, accommodation facilities for 10,000 pilgrims will also be made.

 

Let’s break shackles of the past!