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Imran Khan politicising ‘pious’ event, says govt on Pak PM’s Kartarpur pitch

Imran Khan said it would be “madness” for the two nuclear-armed countries to think of war and that India and Pakistan should emulate the example of France and Germany, which came together in a union after wars and bloodshed.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2018 23:22 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, Kartarpur
imran khan,Pakistan on India,kartarpur corridor
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) addresses the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kartarpur Corridor in Kartarpur on November 28, 2018.(AFP)

Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership are united in desiring better relations with India although Kashmir remains the key issue between the two sides, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday, cautioning that war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours was simply not an option .

Addressing a gathering that included Indian ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri after the groundbreaking ceremony for the Pakistani section of the Kartarpur corridor, Khan said “determined leadership” is needed in both countries to settle the Kashmir issue.

In India, meanwhile, an official spokesperson took exception to what he described as an attempt by Khan to politicise “a pious occasion” with his mention of Kashmir. Chief of army staff General Bipin Rawat said the Kartarpur corridor should be seen in isolation.

Khan also said it would be “madness” for the two nuclear-armed countries to think of war and that India and Pakistan should emulate the example of France and Germany, which came together in a union after wars and bloodshed.

The Pakistani premier made the pitch for peace and better relations with India after the groundbreaking in the presence of Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. Punjab state minister Navjot Sidhu, to whom Bajwa first spoke about the Kartarpur corridor in August, and Badal also addressed the gathering.

“Today in Pakistan, the prime minister, my party, all other political parties, the army and all institutions are on the same page. We want to move forward, we want a civilised relationship with India,” Khan said in Urdu.

“We have one issue, and that is Kashmir. You tell me, humans have reached the moon. Which issue can’t be solved by humans?...We only need determined leadership on both sides of the border,” he said.

Khan, who didn’t mention his Indian counterpart in his speech, questioned the criticism fellow cricketer-turned-politician Sidhu had faced in India after attending his swearing-in ceremony in August.

“He (Sidhu) was talking of friendship between two countries that are nuclear-armed. We both have atomic weapons and there can’t be a war. It is madness to think of war between two countries that have atomic weapons. Only a foolish individual can think anyone can win a nuclear war, everyone will lose,” he added.

India and Pakistan, Khan said, won’t be able to move forward till they break the chains of the past. Citing the example of France and Germany coming together after fighting many wars, he said: “If these countries can make a union, why can’t we?”

Khan also reiterated a pledge he had made in his first speech after winning Pakistan’s general election - that his country will take two steps of friendship for every one step taken by India.

The leadership in both countries needs strength, determination and a big vision to take things forward. “When there is determination, nothing is impossible...The people want peace and the leadership on both sides have to be on the same page,” he said. One reason for wanting better ties with India is the poverty in the region, he said, adding: “A lot of poverty can be ended rapidly if the borders are opened and trade starts.”

The corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in India and the Kartarpur Gurdwara, built at the site in Pakistan where Guru Nanak died, and allow visa-free visits by Indian pilgrims. Pakistan will build a bridge over the Ravi River as part of the corridor and create a border terminal, accommodation for pilgrims and other facilities at Kartarpur, a short distance from the border.

The distance between Dera Baba Nanak and Kartatpur is about 4 km though the circular route planned for the corridor means it will have a total length of about 7 km.

Hundreds of Indian Sikh pilgrims were part of the gathering, and Khan said, “If I had to explain the joy on your faces to my Muslim brothers and sisters, I would say it’s like being 4 km from Medina (the city in Saudi Arabia where Prophet Mohammed is buried) and not being able to go in, and then you’re allowed to go in.”

Khan pledged that all facilities at Kartarpur will be in place for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in 2019.

Sidhu said Guru Nanak’s philosophy was based on brotherhood and ending divisions. Badal, who became emotional during her speech, said the “peace corridor” will remove bitterness between the two countries. “If the Berlin Wall can fall, hatred and mistrust between India and Pakistan can be overcome in the name of Guru Nanak,” she said.

In response to queries on Khan’s reference to Kashmir, an official Indian spokesperson 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 references to Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral and inalienable part of India.

“Pakistan is reminded that it 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,” the spokesperson added.

When asked whether the corridor was a sign of peace between India and Pakistan, General Rawat told reporters : “Kartarpur should be seen in isolation. Do not link it to anything else.” He spoke after delivering the 9th Y B Chavan Memorial lecture in Delhi.

“The whole world is aware that terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are being run by governmental agencies that also plan disruptions in India,” the army chief said.

First Published: Nov 28, 2018 21:26 IST