Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir issue at Kartarpur event, India hits back

Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir issue at Kartarpur event, India hits back
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor in Kartarpur on Wednesday. photo: AFP

Kartarpur/New Delhi: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday pitched for "strong and civilised" relationship with India but asserted that they have "one issue, which is Kashmir", receiving a sharp reaction from India which regretted that he used the "pious occasion" of foundation stone-laying for Kartarpur Sahib corridor to make "unwarranted reference" to its integral and inalienable part.

There was a need for "showing strength, will and determination" by the leadership of the two countries to resolve all issues, Khan said after the foundation ceremony and emphasised that both countries are nuclear armed and "only a foolish individual can think one can win a nuclear war". The ceremony was also attended by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

However, Khan didn't mention terrorism in his address at the event, attended by Indian Union ministers – Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri – Punjab state minister Navjot Singh Sindhu among others. India has always maintained that cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan is a "core concern" for it.

While citing example of France and Germany who fought several wars and are now living in peace with each other, Khan said his government, the army and all political parties were for "strong and civilised" ties with India.

Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir issue at Kartarpur event, India hits back
Imran Khan arrives for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor in Kartarpur on Wednesday. photo: AFP

"I am telling you, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the ruling party, other political parties and armed forces are on one page...We want to move ahead. We want a civilised relationship with India," Khan said.

There have been "mistakes on both sides" and the two sides should not live in the past, he said.

"We have one issue, which is Kashmir. Humans have reached the Moon. Which issue can't be solved? Cannot we solve one issue? We only need determined leadership on both sides. There is no issue which cannot be resolved," he said and reiterated that if India moves one step forward, Pakistan will take two steps forward.

Reacting sharply to Khan's remarks, the External Affairs Ministry in a statement in New Delhi said, "It is deeply regrettable that the Prime Minister of Pakistan chose to politicise the pious occasion meant to realise the long pending demand of the Sikh community to develop a Kartarpur corridor by making unwarranted reference to Jammu and Kashmir which is an integral and inalienable part of India."

Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir issue at Kartarpur event, India hits back
India's Punjab cabinet minister and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu walks after entering Pakistan from India at the border crossing in Wagah to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor. Photo: AFP

Pakistan must fulfil its international obligations and take effective and credible action to stop providing shelter and all kinds of support to cross border terrorism from territories under its control, MEA asserted.

Speaking at the occasion, Kaur said if the Berlin Wall can fall, hatred and mistrust between India and Pakistan can also end.

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had compared the corridor with the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Germany before it was pulled down in 1989.

The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur - the final resting place of Sikh faith's founder Guru Nanak Dev - with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib, which was established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev.

Khan said India and Pakistan need more steps like this (Kartarpur corridor) for peace in the South Asian region.

Imran Khan rakes up Kashmir issue at Kartarpur event, India hits back
Hardeep Singh Puri and Harsimrat Kaur Badal leave for Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib corridor via Attari-Wagah border. Photo: PTI

However, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at a press conference in Hyderabad made it clear that the Kartarpur corridor initiative was not linked to the dialogue process with Pakistan.

There will be no dialogue with Pakistan unless it desists from terrorist activities against India, she said, in a rebuff to Pakistan, which had Tuesday said it would invite Modi to the SAARC summit.

Prime Minister Khan, who also appreciated the joy on the faces around him.

"The happiness I see in you today, if I were to explain to my Muslim brother and sisters, is that imagine that you are standing 4-km outside Medina (a city in Saudi Arabia where the Prophet is buried) and cannot go in, and you are then given the chance to go. That is the happiness I see here," he said.

He assured the Sikh community that facilities at Kartarpur Sahib will be even better for 550th birth celebrations for Guru Nanak Dev next year.

"We will keep improving the Kartarpur darbar for you," he told thousands of Sikh pilgrims from both India and Pakistan who were present at the ceremony.

Praising Sidhu's effort for peace between the two countries, Khan said he had become very popular in Pakistan and if he ran in elections here, he would win.

"I hope we do not have to wait till Sidhu becomes Wazir-e-Azam (prime minister)... I want good relationship with India. People want peace," he said.

Sidhu, who spoke at the event, said there had been enough violence and that the corridor would be a major opportunity to bring peace to the region.

The Kartarpur Corridor, which will facilitate the visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, is expected to be completed within six months.

Thousands of Sikh devotees from India visit Pakistan every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

India had proposed the corridor to Pakistan around 20 years back.

The issue of Kartarpur Sahib came into focus after Sidhu visited Pakistan in August to attend the oath-taking ceremony of his cricketer-turned-politician friend Khan as prime minister of that country.

After his return, Sidhu said that Pakistan Army chief Gen Bajwa had told him that Pakistan may open a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib.

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