KARTARPUR - Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor at an impressive ceremony on Saturday, enabling Sikhs from India to freely visit Darbar Sahib, the place where founder of Sikh religion Baba Guru Nanak spent last days of his life.

Clad in national dress, the PM took a round of the huge structure built around the Kartarpur Gurdwara along with dignitaries, welcomed a Sikh delegation led by the former Indian premier Manmohan Singh on their arrival to the Pakistani side of the border and cut the ribbon to formally inaugurate the border corridor, dubbed as Peace Corridor.

The PM wore a kerchief around his head during the ceremony to show respect to the Sikh sentiments, as it is inappropriate for Sikhs to visit a shrine bareheaded.

Prime Minister Imran Khan began his address to the ceremony by congratulated the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak and said that he was pleased to see the happiness on the faces of pilgrims on this historic occasion.

“I am happy we could do this for you. Believe me, I had no idea of the importance of this place [for the Sikhs]. I found out a year ago. Inability of Sikhs to visit Kartarpur was akin to Muslims being not be able to see Madinah. That is why I am happy. Your hearts have nothing but love and prayers for us”, he said.

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu earlier addressed the ceremony, thanking Prime Minister Imran Khan. Heaping praise on the PM, he said his old friend had taken a bold step to build the Kartarpur Corridor “without looking at gains or losses”.

Praising Sidhu’s passionate address, the premier said he was extremely happy for all the Sikhs living across the globe.

He also lavished praise on the government officials who completed the corridor project in few moths time. “I pay tribute to those who made this dream possible.”

He went on to say, “I salute you all [officials]. I had no idea you were so efficient. That means we can do so much more.”

The Frontier Works Organization carried out the gigantic task of building the 4.1 kilometre long corridor and allied facilities within a short span of 10 months.

The prime minister said that Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had given the message of humanity and justice which differentiate humans from animals. Similarly, he said, Baba Guru Nanak had also promoted peace and love.

He said that people visit shrines of Sufi saints like Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Aulia and Moeenuddin Chishti due to their teachings. True leaders always work for unity and social justice unlike the fake ones who go for hatred to get votes, he added.

“Nelson Mandela has huge respect for promoting unity in the society that had been apartheid by racism. He saved South Africa from anarchy and bloodshed,” Imran Khan said.

He reiterated his sincere wish for early resolution of Kashmir issue, saying that the region would witness peace and prosperity on normalization of relations between the nuclear neighbours after this dispute is resolved.

Earlier, the PM received a warm welcome on his arrival at Darbar Sahib. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Interior Minister Brig (r) Ijaz Shah, Religious Affairs Minister Pir Nurul Haq Qadri, special assistants Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and Zulfiqar Bukhari, Punjab Governor Ch Muhammad Sarwar and Chief Minister Usman Buzdar.

The Sikhs, who had flocked to the place not only from India but also from the US, Canada, UK and other countries, were all praise for Imran Khan for giving them the priceless gift on the 550th birth anniversary of their top-most religious leader.

Besides Manmohan and Sidhu, Bollywood star Sunny Deol, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh also attended the ceremony. A number of diplomats and Indian media was also part of the historic event.

Kashmir

Stressing the need for resolving Kashmir issue in his speech, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Kashmir is not just a territorial dispute anymore, it has now turned into a human crisis due to uncalled for steps of New Delhi.

Recalling his brief interaction with the then Indian PM Manmohan Singh during a summit, Imran Khan said, “We both were of the opinion that resolution of Kashmir issue was key to the progress and prosperity in the region”. He said he shared the same thought with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Prime Minister Modi.

“On assuming charge as PM, I offered Modi to work together to counter common challenges like poverty and climate change. I offered talks for resolving the longstanding issue of Kashmir,” he said. It was unfortunate that the present regime in India resorted to the steps that have further complicated the issue, he added.

“Around 900,000 Indian troops have been putting eight million people under siege [for last three months. Kashmiri people are being treated like animals in sheer violation of human rights guaranteed by the United Nations.” Khan said such tactics were detrimental to not only the regional but also global peace.

Urging his Indian counterpart to give Kashmiris their due rights, the PM warned that subjugation and injustice would only lead to anarchy. He suggested taking measures for normalization of relations between Pakistan and India.

Quoting as an example he said France and Germany fought so many wars for so long but then they realised that wars were in no one’s interest and therefore they became cordial to each other, opened their borders and enhanced trade which led to their collective prosperity.

“Insha Allah [God willing] the region [of South Asia] will see similar prosperity once the Kashmir issue is resolved,” he said.

Qureshi’s speech

Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his address said the message of Sikhism founder was ‘peace and love’ but seeds of hate were being sown in the region.

He said that if Berlin Wall can be demolished and Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the Line of Control can also be eliminated by fulfilling the promise of giving the Kashmiris their right of self-determination.

The foreign minister asked Modi, who had earlier thanked Imran Khan for opening the Corridor, whether he would also give his counterpart [Imran] the chance to thank him by lifting the curfew in occupied Kashmir, ending the use of pellet guns, violations of human rights and communication blackout.

Religious Minister Pir Nurul Haq Qadri said the PM had fulfilled his commitment to provide access to Sikh community to their holy shrines. While in Baghdad, he said, Baba Guru Nanak used to visit the shrine of Imam Kazim daily which gave a message of peace and harmony.

He said the Muslims and Sikhs shared religious values as Baba Guru Nanak had also taught oneness of Allah and had spent a long time in this area.