NAROWAL: Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the historic Kartarpur Corridor on Saturday, for the followers of Guru Nanak, allowing them to visit the revered Sikh Guru’s final resting place without a visa.
The three-kilometre 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 Kartapur 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.”
Praising Sidhu’s passionate address, the premier said he was extremely happy for the global Sikh community.
“All religions teach us two things: justice and love,” said the premier during the inauguration ceremony.
“I only got to know a year ago regarding the importance of Kartarpur Sahib. This is the Medina for the Sikhs of the world.”
“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,” said the prime minister in a veiled reference to India PM Modi.
Referring to the issue of 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.”
He further said the Sub-Continent 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 being used by the Sikh pilgrims, greeted the Indian delegation shortly after his arrival at the venue.
‘We welcome you with open hearts and arms’
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi opened the ceremony and welcomed all those who had come to attend the historic occasion.
FM Qureshi congratulated the global Sikh community and said the inauguration was a “historic occasion and the credit goes to Prime Minister Imran 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,” said the foreign minister addressing the Sikh pilgrims.
“Baba Guru Nanak gave a message peace and love. It is the seeds of love planted by Baba Guru Nanak that have blossomed today.”
Sidhu lauds PM Imran’s Kartapur initiative
Cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu lauded PM Imran’s Kartarpur initiative and paid rich tribute to the premier.
“This is the first prime minister, a lion, who did not care about benefit or loss and made the Kartapur 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.”
Hope bilateral relations improve: Manmohan Singh
Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh led a delegation of Sikh pilgrims as they crossed the international border. He was also accompanied by Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
“I hope India and Pakistan relations improve as a result of this beginning,” said the former Indian prime minister while talking to state broadcaster PTV.
The chief minister of India’s Punjab said the entire Sikh community was very happy as it was their wish to visit the religious site for 70 years.
“I hope this is the beginning and many more gurdwaras are going to be allowed,” he said.
PM Imran, 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,” added the prime minister.
The premier further said Pakistan believes that interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence would provide an opportunity to work for larger interests of the people of the Sub-continent.
Modi thanks PM Imran
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked the prime minister and said: “I also thank Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for understanding India’s wishes and turning Kartarpur into reality”.
The right-wing leader added that the opening of the historic corridor has “brought us immense happiness”.
“I congratulate all of my Sikh brothers and sisters in India and around the world on the inauguration of Karatarpur corridor.”
The passage links Narowal district to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur in Punjab, India.
The first batch of Sikh pilgrims arrived at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib after undergoing the immigration process at the border terminal earlier today.
As a gesture of goodwill, PM Imran also waived the passport requirement for Sikh pilgrims entering the country on this auspicious occasion.
Around 10,000 pilgrims are set to perform their rituals within the compound of the Gurdwara after seven decades.
Saturday’s inauguration will take place in the presence of former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, Actor Sunny Deol, Union Ministers Hardeep Singh Puri, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal.
The delegation will arrive at the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor.
Some 5,000 pilgrims will be able to cross into Pakistan every day to perform religious rituals.
Earlier, Sikh pilgrims had to travel by road to Lahore and then to Narowal to perform their rituals at the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib.
The project was initiated on the directives of the premier as a testimony of Pakistan’s commitment to promoting interfaith harmony and regional peace.
Touted by many as the ‘corridor of peace’ between the two arch-rivals, the Corridor was completed in a record period of eleven months by Islamabad.
The Sikh pilgrims lauded the government’s steps to protect religious places of minorities and give them equal rights.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan should be given a Noble prize over his initiatives for the pilgrims,” said Sikh leader Sardar Charan Singh.
“Our lifetime wish has been fulfilled, we never imagined this,” said Manees Kaur Wadha, an Indian pilgrim who came to Pakistan last week after managing to secure a visa, and was already at the shrine early Saturday.
“Since childhood, our elders had told us so many stories of Pakistan. They left (migrated) from here. But we never imagined we would ever be able to see it and have these feelings.”
Concession for peace
Ahead of the inauguration, Prime Minister Imran Khan waived the USD 20 for those coming to Kartarpur for the 550th birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru.
“For Sikhs coming for the pilgrimage to Kartarpur from India, I have waived off two requirements: 1) they won’t need a passport — just a valid ID; 2) they no longer have to register 10 days in advance. Also, no fee to be charged on the day of inauguration and Guruji’s 550th birthday,” the prime minister tweeted earlier this month.
In an official statement on the eve of the inauguration, the prime minister congratulated the Sikh community on both sides of the border.
“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.
“This unprecedented gesture of goodwill from the Government of Pakistan is a reflection of our deep respect for Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji and religious sentiments of the Sikh community,” the statement added.
Despite being punctuated by frequent snags, Pakistan has earned praise from the Sikh community for opening the passage in time for the important religious event this month. Sikh devotees from the other side of the border are hopeful the corridor project will defuse the tensions between the two nations.
Sikhism originated in the Punjab region. But independence from the British rule resulted in dividing the followers of the monotheistic religion, and its holiest sites. After partition in 1947, Pakistan became home to more than 150 sacred Sikh sites. Each year, followers of Guru Nanak converge on Punjab to visit holy sites in the province.
The province is home to several gurdwaras. Over the last seven decades, Pakistan has restored over 20 places of worship. Situated approximately 90 kilometres west of the city of Lahore, the Janam Asthan Nankana Sahib is another spot that draws millions of Sikh followers from all over the world. The gurudwara, also known as Nankana Sahib, was built on the birth site of Guru Nanak.
Other important gurdwaras include the Dera Sahab in Lahore and Gurdwara Punja Sahab Hasan Abdal, where Sikh devotees from across the globe visit and perform religious rituals.
Arrival and preparations
Sikh pilgrims started arriving last month. In the run-up to the big day on November 12, which marks the birth anniversary of the Sikh Guru, the Pakistan government has made detailed security and medical arrangements for the visiting devotees. The Sikh visitors are expected to leave after November 14. On Friday, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar praised the government’s role in making adequate arrangements for the visitors.
Although the Kartarpur Corridor appears to be an isolated move towards peace with little or no impact on other bilateral disputes due to India’s stiff position on Kashmir, it opens doors to religious tourism bonanza for the country.
Commenting on the cross-border passage, Punjab Governor said “religious tourism can bring up to $5 billion to the national kitty every year,” The government plans to renovate other sites to promote religious tourism in Pakistan.
With additional input from Reuters/AFP