The opening of the Kartarpur corridor will "enormously improve" relations between India and Pakistan, former prime minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday after he arrived at the facility as part of the first batch of the Indian pilgrims through the cross-border pathway.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan formally inaugurated the historic corridor to facilitate the visa-free entry of Indian Sikh pilgrims.
He 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.
The first batch also included Akal Takht Jathedar Harpreet Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and BJP MP Sunny Deol.
Speaking to Pakistani reporters, the former prime minister termed the opening of the corridor as a "big moment".
"India and Pakistan relations will improve enormously as a result of this beginning," he said.
The 87-year-old, two-time prime minister and his wife paid obeisance at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.
Punjab CM Amarinder Singh said the Sikh community has been waiting for a free passage for 70 years and maintained that it is a good beginning, The Nation newspaper reported.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee members and all the 117 MLAs and MPs from Punjab including cabinet ministers were also part of the first 'jatha'.
Earlier, PM Narendra Modi flagged off the first batch of over 500 pilgrims, saying it will be easy to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara after the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Asserting that he is fortunate to be able to dedicate the Kartarpur corridor to the country, Modi said the opening of the corridor and the integrated check post will bring double happiness to the people.
India and Pakistan relations touched a new low after the Indian government on August 5 abrogated the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and its bifurcation 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.
According to the agreement between Pakistan and India, 5,000 pilgrims from India can visit the shrine daily and the number can be increased in future.
The requirement of passport and the USD 20 service fee have been waived for Saturday and for November 12 by Pakistan.
Separate events have been organised on both the sides of the border to launch the much-awaited corridor ahead of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary on November 12.
Guru Nanak Dev spent last 18 years of his life at Kartarpur Sahib, which has now become the world's largest Sikh Gurdwara.
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