Former Indian cricket star Navjot Singh Sidhu on Tuesday arrived in Pakistan to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor in Nankana Sahib.
He had been extended an invitation for the ceremony by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week.
Prime Minister Imran Khan will perform the groundbreaking of the corridor on Wednesday (Nov 28). The proposal to construct the corridor providing visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims was renewed by Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in August this year.
Sindhu thanked the prime minister and, while speaking to journalists upon crossing the Wagah border, said that he had brought with him “a message of love and peace”.
“Ninety per cent of people in India want bilateral cricket between the two countries,” he said while responding to a question. “Art and artists work to bridge gaps between nations,” he added.
Later in the day, he arrived at the Governor House in Lahore and was welcomed by Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar. Immediately upon the two greeting each other, Sidhu said in jest to Sarwar: “Which pills have you been taking? You seem to be getting younger while I am growing old.”
The humour continued at a joint press conference addressed by Sarwar and Sidhu.
“I welcome Sidhu sahab to Pakistan and the Governor House,” Sarwar said in Punjabi. To this, Sidhu responded by saying: “If a Punjabi person does not speak Punjabi it seems as if he is lying.”
The governor promised that the governments of Pakistan and India would work towards the resolution of problems faced by the Sikh community.
Referring to the aftermath of an embrace between Gen Bajwa and Sidhu during the latter’s visit in August to attend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony, which had drawn severe criticism from India’s nationalist parties and opposition alike, the governor said: “It was unprecedented that a hug caused such an uproar throughout the world.”
“[Prime Minister] Imran Khan has made a historic decision to open the Kartarpur corridor,” he added.
The governor expressed the hope that Sidhu will attend the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and spend the day in Pakistan.
“If Sidhu decides to contest the election from Pakistan’s Punjab, it will prove difficult to defeat him,” Sarwar quipped at one point.
Sidhu expressed his elation at the opening of the corridor, saying: “After 71 years, a dream will soon be a reality. In opening the Kartarpur border, both governments have opened a new chapter in which many things previously impossible will be possible.”
The 4-km-long corridor will connect Dera Baba Nanak in India’s Gurdaspur district with Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan. The corridor will provide visa-free access to the Indian Sikh pilgrims to the shrine.
Lying dormant due to the tense relations between the two countries since 1988, the proposal to construct the corridor had been renewed by Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in August this year.
The government had invited Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu besides 17 Indian journalists to the ceremony. Swaraj and Singh both declined to attend the ceremony. Two other ministers will be attending in Swaraj’s place.
Kartarpur is located in Shakargarh in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province. It is said that Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism, had spent more than 18 years of his life there. The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara is located on the banks of the Ravi River, about three-four kilometres from the border in Pakistan.
On Monday, Indian Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and Indian Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh laid the foundation stone of the corridor in Gurdaspur.