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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Sushma welcomes Pak invite for Kartarpur corridor event, but won’t be able to travel

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj declined Pakistan’s invitation to the opening ceremony of the corridor, which will link India’s border district of Gurdaspur with the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2018 23:58 IST
Rezaul H Laskar and Imtiaz Ahmad
Rezaul H Laskar and Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Islamabad
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)

India on Saturday said ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri would represent the country at the Pakistan’s groundbreaking ceremony for a corridor to Kartapur Gurdwara, the first major contact between the two sides after months of strained ties.

The announcement, made by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Twitter, came hours after Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi invited her, also through a tweet, to the ceremony on November 28. In a set of tweets, Swaraj thanked Qureshi and said “we welcome this proposal and we are sending two ministers”.

Swaraj said she would be “unable to travel” to Kartarpur and India would be represented by food processing minister Badal and minister of state for housing and urban affairs Puri.

People familiar with developments said Swaraj would be unable to travel to Pakistan on the day because of prior commitments, including her involvement in the election campaign in Telangana. They said the decision to send the ministers had been made in view of the importance of facilitating smooth access to the Kartarpur shrine for Sikh pilgrims.

Qureshi had also invited Punjab chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh and state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to the ceremony but it was not immediately clear whether they too would be part of the Indian delegation.

Swaraj also tweeted that India hoped Pakistan would expedite construction of the corridor on its side so that Indian pilgrims could use it “as soon as possible”.

On Thursday, India and Pakistan announced separately they would create corridors on their sides of the border to facilitate visa-free visits by Indian pilgrims to Kartarpur Gurdwara, located 120 km from Lahore on the banks of the Ravi river.

The gurdwara, built at the site where Guru Nanak died, is about four kilometres from Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India. The move came ahead of the celebration of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary in 2019.

The demand to build a corridor linking India’s border district of Gurdaspur with the historic gurdwara has been a long-standing one from the Sikh community. It returned to focus when Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa told Sidhu on the sidelines of the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan in August that Islamabad planned to open a corridor for Indian pilgrims.

This will be the first high-level contact between the two sides since India called off a planned meeting of the foreign ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September because of terror-related concerns.

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invoked the fall of the Berlin Wall to talk about the potential ramifications of the Kartarpur corridor. “Who thought the Berlin Wall would fall? May be, with the blessings of Guru Nanak Devji, the Kartarpur Corridor will not only be a corridor but can be a reason to bring people together,” he said at a function to mark Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary at the New Delhi home of minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Qureshi, while briefing the National Assembly the same day, said Prime Minister Khan would inaugurate the groundbreaking ceremony on November 28. He said the move reflected the importance Pakistan gives to “all minorities”.

“Pakistan’s Kartarpur Spirit can be a step forward in the right direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship,” he added.

First Published: Nov 24, 2018 21:07 IST