Nation special report
NANKANA SAHIB (Punjab): Thousands of Indian Sikhs made a historic pilgrimage to Pakistan, crossing through a white gate to reach one of their religion’s holiest sites, after a landmark opening of the Kartarpur corridor on Saturday.
Cheering Sikhs walked joyfully along the road from Dera Baba Nanak in India towards the new immigration hall that would allow them to pass through a secure land corridor into Pakistan. Some fathers ran, carrying their children on their shoulders.
Buses were waiting on the Pakistani side to carry them along the corridor to the shrine to Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak, which lies in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan where he is believed to have died.
Among the first pilgrims was former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Pakistani state media that it was a “big moment”. Many believe it has happened now because of the friendship between Prime Minister Imran Khan, a World Cup winning cricketer-turned politician, and India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu — another cricketer-turned-politician.
The opening comes just days ahead of the Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on November 12 — an anniversary of huge significance for the global Sikh community.
Prime Minister Imran Khan formally inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor at a colourful ceremony on Saturday, paving the way for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit one of their religion’s holiest sites in Pakistan without needing a visa.
“First of all, 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, paying tribute to the government team for completing the Kartarpur project in a matter of months. “I salute you all. I had no idea you were so efficient. That means we can do so much more,” he told the government officials.
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. “I am happy we could do this for you,” he told the hundreds of Sikh pilgrims. “Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago.
He continued: “The first thing I did after becoming the prime minister was to tell Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that poverty is our mutual problem, and the way to deal with it is to open our borders to people and trade. “I met Manmohan Singh during a conference and I remember when he was the PM he had said that ‘the entire South Asia can rise if we solve Kashmir’. And that’s what I told Modi. “But I am sad to say that Kashmir has gone beyond a territorial issue. This is an issue of humanity, not a territorial dispute. “The way they Kashmiris are being kept like animals. Their rights have been snatched away which the UNSC gave them.
“If Modi is listening, he should know that justice brings peace and injustice spreads confusion.”Let’s rid ourselves of this problem,” he told Modi, referring to the Kashmir dispute. “So we can live like humans.”Imagine the happiness that will spread and how we will be able to pull people out of poverty.
“When this problem is solved and Kashmiris get their rights, the sub-continent will see prosperity and our entire region will rise in the world, and I pray that day is not far,” he concluded.
United States has said that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor sets a positive example of neighbours working together for mutual benefit. In a video message released on Saturday afternoon, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus termed the opening of this new border-crossing an important “step towards promoting greater religious freedom”.
Highlighting the importance of this “impressive” project, Ms Ortagus said in her brief statement: “The State Department welcomes the opening of a new border-crossing between India and Pakistan, the Kartarpur corridor. We see this as a positive example of neighbors working together for mutual benefit.