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 Gurdwara.
During his brief address, Khan raked up the Kashmir issue and said it has resulted in 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.
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 Gurdwara 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.”
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 the prosperity of the 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 the last 18 years of his life.