KARTARPUR (PAKISTAN) – Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday formally inaugurated the historic Kartarpur corridor to facilitate the visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.
Khan inaugurated the corridor by removing a curtain that was lifted by hot air balloons in the presence of thousands of Sikhs from across the world including India. A huge ‘kirpan’ (dagger) was displayed at the inauguration site.
“I am happy we could do this for you,” he told a gathering of over 12,000 devotees, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.
“Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago,” he said.
Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life at Kartarpur Sahib, which has now become the world’s largest Sikh Gurdawara.
During his brief address, Khan raked up the Kashmir issue and said it has resulted 70 years of hatred between India and Pakistan.
“The resolution of the Kashmir issue will lead to greater prosperity and mutual development of India and Pakistan,” Khan said.
“India must ensure justice to people of Kashmir,” he said, referring to the abrogation of the Article 370 and communication blackout in the Valley.
He hoped that one day the relationship between the two neighbours will improve.
Citing the examples of Prophet Muhammad, Nelson Mandela and Sufi saints, Khan said a true leader always brings people together.
“I am always so happy to see the Sikh community who have come here. God lives in the hearts of all of us. All the messengers who have come and gone only ever brought two messages, that of peace and justice,” he said.
Earlier, Khan visited different units of Gurdawara Darbar Sahib.
Prime Minister Khan welcomed the first batch of the Indian Sikh pilgrims who entered Pakistan through the corridor which links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab’s Gurdaspur.
Khan shook hand with former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and exchanged pleasantries.
Speaking on the occasion, Sidhu told Khan, “You have won hearts.”
Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the opening of the Kartapur corridor is “the biggest message of peace and love” since Partition.
In his address, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the doors of Kartarpur have been opened for Sikh pilgrims.
“If the Berlin Wall can be demolished, if the Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the temporary boundary of the Line of Control can also be ended,” Qureshi said, raking up the Kashmir issue during his address on the occasion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flagged off the first batch of over 500 pilgrims in Gurdaspur, saying it will be easy to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara after the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Asserting that he is fortunate to be able to dedicate the Kartarpur corridor to the country, Modi said the opening of the corridor and the integrated check post will bring double happiness to the people.
The first ‘jatha’ also include Akal Takht Jathedar Harpreet Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee members and all the 117 MLAs and MPs from Punjab including ministers are also part of the first ‘jatha’.
Prime Minister Khan, who congratulated the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, said the historic opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a testimony to Pakistan’s commitment to regional peace.
“We believe that the road to prosperity of region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace,” Khan said in his message on the occasion.
“Today we are not only opening the border, but also our hearts for the Sikh community,” he said.
The inauguration of the corridor comes in the midst of frayed ties between India and Pakistan following New Delhi’s decision in August to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, India and Pakistan after tough negotiations signed an agreement last month, paving the way for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor on November 9.
The agreement will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib where Guru Nanak spent last 18 years of his life.
Modi Thanks Imran
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday thanked his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan for appreciating India’s sentiment on the issue of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor.
The corridor links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, to the Dera Baba Nanak shrine here.
“I thank Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi. He understood India’s feelings on the Kartarpur corridor issue, gave respect (to it) and, worked keeping in view those feelings,” the prime minister told a gathering at the BSF camp in Shikhaar Masiahan, about eight kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara.
The prime minister also thanked the Pakistani workers involved in building the corridor.
“I also want to thank the workers of Pakistan who worked at a fast pace to help in building the corridor on their side,” he said.
Donning a saffron turban on the occasion, PM Modi said he felt blessed to be on the holy land here to dedicate the Kartarpur corridor to the country.
The opening of the corridor and the integrated check post would bring “double happiness” to the people, he added.
“I feel blessed that I am dedicating the Kartarpur corridor to the country. At the moment, I am getting the same feeling which you get at the time of doing Kar Sewa (religious service)”, he said.
This corridor and Integrated Check Post will serve thousands of devotees each day, and take them to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, he said.
The prime minister also congratulated the countrymen and Sikhs across the world, while inaugurating the corridor.
He also flagged off the first batch of over 500 Indian pilgrims who will travel to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province through the Kartarpur corridor, thrown open days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev on November 12.
“Paying obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib will become easier now due to the corridor. I express gratitude to the Punjab government, SGPC and all the workers who were involved in building this Corridor,” the prime minister said.
The Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, the apex religious body of the Sikhs also honoured the prime minister with ‘Kaumi Sewa Award’ on the occasion.
“The SGPC bestowed me with Kaumi Sewa award, which I dedicate at the feet of Guru Nanak Dev,” he said.
“Guru Nanak is not a legacy of Sikhs alone, but an inspiration for the entire humanity,” said the prime minister, adding, “He is not only a Guru, but a thought.”
“When Guru Nanak Dev set out on his ‘udasis’ or long travels from Sultanpur Lodhi, who knew what changes they would usher?” he said.
The prime minister said the Guru himself had proclaimed that the purpose of his ‘yatras’, were to “pull the society out of injustice, darkness and inequalities”.
He gave message of unity and brotherhood, said Modi, adding he also gave society the gift of “an economic system, based on truth, honesty and self-respect”.
“Guru Nanak Dev taught us that when development is undertaken with truth and honesty, it leads to the opening up of paths of progress and prosperity,” said Modi.
He taught us that the wealth would come and go, but true values would always remain intact, the prime minister added.
“He also taught us that when we work sticking to our values, it gives permanent prosperity,” he said.
The prime minister also touched upon the final years of Guru Nanak’s life in Kartarpur.
Guru Nanak also taught us to consider “air as Guru, speech as father and earth as mother”, he said.
“Only Guru Nanak’s teachings could show us the path to move ahead when there is exploitation of nature, leading to environmental problem and pollution,” he said.
The prime minister also referred to various ongoing Sikhism-related work across the world.
“I am grateful to UNESCO for its help in translation of Guru Nanak’s Gurbani in different languages,” he said, adding a university in Britain has set up a chair after Guru Nanak’s name.
Similar efforts are being made in Canada, he said, adding an interfaith university is being set up in Amritsar too, while Sultanpur Lodhi is being developed as a heritage town.
He also referred to the Indian Railways plan to link places, concerned with Guru Nanak’s life, by a special weekly train.
The Centre government has worked on improving rail and air connectivity among religious places of Sikhs, including Akal Takhat, Damdama Sahib, Kesgarh Sahib, Patna Sahib and Huzoor Sahib, he said.
On the issue of scrapping of a Centre’s ‘black list’, having names of 321 foreigner Sikhs, who were allegedly involved in anti-India activities, the prime minister said this decision has benefitted Sikhs world over.
Many families can apply for visa no, can meet their relatives easily in India and perform prayers at places of worship of the Gurus,” he said.
Mentioning the nullification of then Article 370 and the Citizen Amendment Bill, the prime minister said the Sikh community would get direct benefits by two decisions of the Central government.
The decision to annul Article 370 would enable Sikhs in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to avail all the rights enjoyed by other people of the country, said the prime minister, adding the Citizen Amendment Bill would benefit Sikhs also as they can get country’s citizenship easily.
The prime minister also urged people to “take a pledge to remain alert to forces inimical to India” and keep away from habit of drugs and keep future generations away from it.
Sidhu hails buddy Imran
Congress leader and former Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu on Saturday reached here to pay obeisance at the historic Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan.
He along with others headed towards the Integrated Check Point.
Earlier, Sidhu was allowed by the government to accompany the Sikh ”jatha” that will travel to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan via the Kartarpur Corridor.
The Ministry of External Affairs had, however, denied Sidhu the permission to travel to Pakistan via Wagah. Pakistan had extended Sidhu the first invitation for the event and had even offered him a visa.
The ”jatha” will travel to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, a holy shrine of the Sikh religious community in Pakistan, using the corridor which will be thrown open for the first time later in the day by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, also known as Darbar Sahib Gurdwara, is believed to have been built on the site where Guru Nanak died in the 16th century. It is going to be linked with the 4.2 km-long Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.
After inaugurating the corridor, Modi will dispatch the first lot of pilgrims to visit Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan”s Punjab province on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak Dev that falls on November 12.