Pakistan formally opens Kartarpur Corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims

A group of male and female Sikh pilgrims at Kartarpur 

A group of male and female Sikh pilgrims at Kartarpur

By Nasir Aijaz
AsiaN Representative

Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan formally inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor at a colourful ceremony on Saturday in Narowal area near Indian border, paving the way for Sikh pilgrims to visit Darbar Baba Guru Nanak, one of their religion’s holiest sites in Pakistan without needing a visa.

“I congratulate the Sikh community on the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak and welcome you all,” the premier said at the start of his address.

“I am always so happy to see the Sikh community, who 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.”

Prime Minister Imran noted that the lessons that can be drawn from Guru Nanak’s teachings are about bringing people together and not to spread hate.

Prime Minister Imran Khan receiving former Indian premier Manmohan Singh at Kartarpur

Prime Minister Imran Khan receiving former Indian premier Manmohan Singh at Kartarpur

Former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the first delegation of Sikh pilgrims as they crossed into Pakistan through the Kartarpur Corridor. Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister Amarinder Singh was also part of the jatha (caravan).

“I hope India and Pakistan relations improve enormously as a result of this beginning,” Manmohan said according to state-run Pakistan Television, as he walked towards the Pakistan side, terming the occasion a “big moment”.

The Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said they were all happy because it had been a desire of Sikhs to visit their religious sites in Pakistan for 70 years.

“This is a beginning, I hope it’s going to continue and many more gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) are going to be allowed,” he remarked.

Former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu who addressed the ceremony, thanked Prime Minister Imran for taking the bold step to build the Kartarpur Corridor “without looking at gains or losses”.

“You have won hearts,” he said while addressing the premier. Besides Sidhu, Bollywood actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol also attended the opening ceremony.

Foreign diplomats, accompanied by Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr. Mohammad Faisal and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood, were also in attendance.

On the other side of border, before seeing off the first group of pilgrims to Pakistan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed members of the Sikh community and hailed the opening of the corridor.

“I also thank Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for understanding India’s wishes and turning Kartarpur into reality,” Modi said in his speech. He also thanked the labour in both countries for completing the construction in a short time.

The Indian premier said that Baba Guru Nanak was not just a revered figure for Sikhs but for the entire humanity.

Sikhs from across the border started arriving in Pakistan today to make a historic pilgrimage to the shrine of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, which is located in Kartarpur. About 8,000-10,000 pilgrims are expected to arrive from around the world to mark Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on November 12.

The premier had performed the groundbreaking of the visa-free corridor last year. Since then, the government had employed hundreds of labourers to spruce up the shrine, including building a border immigration checkpoint and a bridge, as well as expanding the site’s grounds. After tough negotiations between Islamabad and New Delhi, two countries had finally signed agreement regarding the project last month.

For up to 30 million Sikhs around the world, it is one of their holiest places. When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border — though most of the region’s Sikhs remained on the other side.

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