Pakistan PM Imran Khan pitches for peace at Kartarpur programme


NOVEMBER 9, 2019

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan – (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)

Islamabad Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday used the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor to make a fresh pitch for peace with India, saying the two countries should make efforts to settle the Kashmir issue to usher in stability and progress in the region.

In a nuanced speech markedly different in tenor from his address at the UN General Assembly that had referred to the possibility of nuclear war over Kashmir, Khan offered the example of France and Germany living in peace after numerous wars, and said he hoped a similar peace could be achieved by India and Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who largely avoided mention of Pakistan in his speech while inaugurating the Indian section of the corridor in Gurdaspur, thanked Khan for “understanding, respecting and acting on India’s sentiments regarding the Kartarpur Corridor”. Modi also thanked workers in Pakistan who completed the other section of the corridor so fast.

Addressing a large gathering at Durbar Sahib gurdwara in Kartarpur that included former premier Manmohan Singh, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and MP Sunny Deol, Khan said the situation in Kashmir had gone beyond a “territorial issue” and become a matter of human rights.

“This is an issue of humanity, not of land…The rights promised by the UN have been taken away, and there will never be peace this way and because of this, all our relations have stopped,” he said, speaking in Urdu.

“If Prime Minister Modi is listening to me, I would like to say that justice leads to peace, injustice leads to lack of peace. Give justice to the people of Kashmir and free the subcontinent,” he added.

Khan further said: “I hope this is a start, one day our relations with India will be what they should have been if the problem of Kashmir had been settled right at the start.”

He cited the example of France and Germany, which were trading and allowing their citizens to move across their borders after fighting several wars in which many people were killed. “In the same way, when Kashmir is settled and Kashmiris get their rights, there will be peace in the subcontinent and the region will progress. I pray that day is not far away,” he said.

The two sides inaugurated separate sections of the corridor that links Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur to Durbar Sahib gurdwara, built at the spot in Pakistan’s Kartarpur where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the final years of his life.

The move marked a rare instance of cooperation between the two countries in a year of heightened tensions, first over the Pulwama suicide attack in February and then over New Delhi’s August 5 decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

The Indian side has acknowledged the Kartarpur Corridor’s potential to foster peace between the two sides but remains apprehensive about Pakistani elements leveraging the project to fan separatist sentiments in Indian Punjab.

The corridor will allow Indian pilgrims to travel without visas to the gurdwara, located within Pakistan about 4 km from the border. The two sides signed an agreement on the corridor on October 24 despite differences on several issues, including a $20 service fee levied by Pakistan on all pilgrims.

Khan said he was happy to spend the day with Sikh pilgrims from around the world, comparing their joy to that experienced by Muslims making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia. “Till a year ago, I didn’t know the importance of Kartarpur for Sikhs. I tell Pakistani Muslims that this is the Medina of Sikhs,” he said.

He said all holy men and saints such as Guru Nanak and Sufi saints Baba Farid, Nizamuddin Auliya and Moinuddin Chisti worked for humanity and peace, and to unite people. “Leaders don’t spread hate and use that to win votes, those aren’t leaders,” he added.

Referring to Sidhu’s request at his swearing-in ceremony last year to open the corridor, Khan said that soon after he became the premier, he had told Modi the subcontinent’s biggest problem was poverty. “I told him we should rapidly tackle poverty so that trade starts and borders open, and both will benefit and progress,” he said.

“We had the only one issue of Kashmir, which we could discuss as neighbors and resolve,” Khan said.

Before the inauguration of the corridor, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told BBC that relations between the two countries can improve only if India changes its policy on Kashmir.

“Improvement of relations will depend upon their treatment and attitude in (Jammu and) Kashmir. The way they are going about maltreating people and abusing human rights…,” he said. “If they continue to do what they are doing in Kashmir, I see no respite.”

India, Qureshi said, hadn’t responded to several peace overtures from Khan. “Despite that, we decided to continue with the Kartarpur Corridor and the Kartarpur Spirit,” he said.

Qureshi raked up the Kashmir issue while addressing the inauguration ceremony too, saying: “If the Berlin Wall could fall and the face of Europe could be changed, then with the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the temporary boundary marked by the Line of Control could be ended.”

Courtesy/Source: Hindustan Times