In a surprise move, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday invited former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to travel across the border for the Kartarpur corridor inauguration in November this year. Qureshi announced the decision to invite Dr. Manmohan Singh in a video message that he said, would be followed up with a formal invitation from the Pakistan Government.
“Dr. Singh is widely respected in India and hails from the Sikh community,” he said in the video that also made a reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s deep interest in the Kartarpur project.
The Kartarpur corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims, who will have to obtain a permit to make the pilgrimage.
The corridor will be opened in November ahead of Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary. Kartarpur Sahib was established in 1522 by Sikh faith founder Guru Nanak Dev.
Qureshi’s video invite comes days after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s sharp attack at the United Nations General Assembly session that targeted the government for its move to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, accused security forces of human rights violations and warned the world that tensions between the two countries could escalate into a nuclear war.
It is not clear if Dr. Manmohan Singh will accept the invite. A counter-terror official said the former PM was certain to take into account the current state of relations between the two countries when he does formally receive the invite.
The Indian security establishment sees the video invite as a public relations exercise by the Pakistan government that is desperately trying to counter adverse reports about its treatment of its minorities.
Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, who had last year described Pakistan’s push to the corridor like a big conspiracy by the Pakistan army, has toned down his criticism of Islamabad’s move in view of the public and religious sentiments around the corridor. He is expected to travel to Pakistan for the Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, will stay on the Indian side of the border. He will inaugurate the integrated check post (ICP) in Kartarpur Sahib on November 9 and flag off the first Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC)-led group of pilgrims from India to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of the guru, which is now in Pakistan.