Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan raked up the Kashmir issue at the inauguration ceremony of the landmark Kartarpur corridor on Saturday and said ensuring "justice" to Kashmiris will open new channels of communication between India and Pakistan and improve their relationship.
The Kashmir issue has resulted in accumulation of 70 years of hatred between the two neighbours and it was time both sides attempted to resolve it for charting a new course of development and prosperity, he said.
Khan hoped that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor will generate goodwill among the Sikh community spread all over the world. He went on to compare the Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib with what Medina -- a holy city in present-day Saudi Arabia where Prophet Muhammad spent last years of his life -- meant for Muslims.
In a rare and landmark people-to-people initiative in the midst of their strained bilateral ties over Kashmir, the Kartarpur corridor was thrown open to Indian pilgrims. It will provide the pilgrims visa-free entry to one of Sikhism's holiest shrines in the Pakistani town of Narowal.
Khan inaugurated the corridor by removing a curtain that was lifted by hot air balloons in the presence of thousands of Sikhs from across the world including India. A huge 'kirpan' (dagger) was displayed at the inauguration site.
"I am happy we could do this for you," he told a gathering of over 12,000 devotees, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Union minister Hardeep Puri, former Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu.
"Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago," he said.
Ensuring "justice" to Kashmiris will bring about an overall improvement in the bilateral relationship, Khan said, referring to the abrogation of the Article 370 provisions.
"Hope one day our relationship will improve," he said.
Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life at Kartarpur Sahib, which has now become the world's largest Sikh Gurdawara.
"I am always so happy to see the Sikh community who have come here. God lives in the hearts of all of us. All the messengers who have come and gone only ever brought two messages, that of peace and justice," he said.
"Today we are not only opening the border, but also our hearts for the Sikh community," he said.
Earlier, Khan visited different units of Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.
Khan welcomed the first batch of the Indian Sikh pilgrims who entered Pakistan through the corridor which links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab's Gurdaspur.
Khan shook hand with former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and exchanged pleasantries.
Speaking on the occasion, Sidhu told Khan, "You have won hearts."
Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the opening of the Kartapur corridor is "the biggest message of peace and love" since Partition.
In his address, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the doors of Kartarpur have been opened for Sikh pilgrims.
"If the Berlin Wall can be demolished, if the Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the temporary boundary of the Line of Control can also be ended," Qureshi said, raking up the Kashmir issue during his address on the occasion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flagged off the first batch of over 500 pilgrims in Gurdaspur, saying it will be easy to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara after the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
The inauguration of the corridor comes in the midst of frayed ties between India and Pakistan following New Delhi's decision in August to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, India and Pakistan after tough negotiations signed an agreement last month, paving the way for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor on November 9.
The agreement will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib where Guru Nanak spent last 18 years of his life.
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