A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked the fall of the Berlin Wall to underline the potentially transformative nature of developing the Kartarpur corridor between the two countries, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday extended an invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to attend the groundbreaking ceremony at Kartarpur on November 28, which will be attended by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Swaraj, however, responded by saying that she would not be able to attend the ceremony since she had “prior commitments” at the election campaign in Telangana. However, she nominated her Cabinet colleagues, Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, to attend the ceremony as the Indian government’s representatives.
“We hope that the Government of Pakistan will expedite construction of the corridor in order to ensure that our citizens can pay their respects at the Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor as soon as possible,” she said, in her reponse. This is the second time Pakistan has reached out to India since a new government led by Imran Khan came to power in August. In September, within 24 hours of accepting Pakistan’s invitation for a meeting of foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, India had declined the offer, citing the “killing of Indian security forces” and the “glorification” of terrorists.
Qureshi tweeted on Saturday evening, “On behalf of Pakistan, I have extended an invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj @SushmaSwaraj, Capt Amarinder Singh @capt_amarinder & Navjot Singh Sidhu @sherryontopp to attend the groundbreaking ceremony at #Kartarpura on 28 Nov, 2018. #PakistanKartarpuraSpirit”.
In response, Swaraj tweeted late on Saturday, “I thank HE Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi Foreign Minister of Pakistan for inviting me to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor on the Pakistan side of the International boundary on 28 November 2018… Since I am unable to travel to Kartarpur Sahib on the scheduled date, Government of India will be represented by my esteemed colleagues Mrs.Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Mr.H.S.Puri.”
On Friday, a day after Pakistan and India announced they would develop a pilgrim corridor on both sides of the border to help pilgrims from India access Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Modi had said, “Kisne socha that ki Berlin ki deewar gir sakti hai. Shayad Guru Nanak Devji ke aashirwad se Kartarpur ka corridor sirf corridor nahi, jan-jan ko jodne ka bahut bada kaaran ban sakta hai (Who thought the Berlin Wall would fall. Maybe with the blessings of Guru Nanak Devji, Kartarpur corridor will not only be a corridor but can be a reason to bring people together).” Modi was speaking at a function to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev at the New Delhi home of Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday welcomed the building of the Kartarpur corridor, that’s proposed to link India’s border district of Gurdaspur with the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. Asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments that the corridor would act as a bridge between the people of the two countries, Singh cautioned that there were many hurdles to cross before it could be achieved.
“There are many hurdles and one should not underestimate those hurdles. But any beginning is a good beginning, I hope it is successful,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference titled ‘Towards Peace, Harmony and Happiness: Transition to Transformation’, organised by the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation. Singh, however, did not specify what he thought the hurdles were. On Friday, Pakistan had said that the decision to open the Kartarpur Sahib corridor could be “a step forward in the right direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship”.
The warmth over the corridor came after the Ministry of External Affairs accused Islamabad of harassing Indian diplomats and denying them access to Indian pilgrims visiting gurdwaras Nankana Sahib and Sacha Sauda Sahib in Pakistan. Lodging a strong protest and expressing “grave concern”, the MEA accused Pakistan of promoting “secessionist tendencies”. South Block sources said “evidence” in the form of photographs and videos of pro-Khalistan posters at these gurdwaras was shared with the Pakistan High Commission and officials of the Foreign Ministry.