Kartarpur (Pakistan): India and Pakistan on Saturday opened a land crossing for Indian pilgrims to cross into Pakistan to visit a revered shrine, a move that was seen as having the potential to open a new chapter in ties.
But the two countries were engaged in a war of words soon after, on Saturday, over an Indian Supreme Court decision to award disputed land in Ayodhya to the government to construct a temple, with Muslims being given another property to construct a mosque. The verdict in the 70-year-old dispute was pronounced on Saturday. Hindus have believed that the land in Ayodhya is where a temple existed at the time of Lord Ram’s birth. They believe that the Babri Mosque that was demolished in 1992 was built after demolishing the Ram Temple. Muslims in India have contested that.
The first to fire a salvo was Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi who sought to know from Indian journalists why the Supreme Court had chosen to deliver its verdict kept in reserve since last month on Saturday, the day of Kartarpur crossing was being inaugurated.
Later the Pakistani foreign office issued a statement slamming India on its treatment of minorities.
“We have noted with deep concern the decision of the Indian Supreme Court regarding the historic Babri Masjid. The decision has, once again, failed to uphold the demands of justice," the Pakistan foreign office statement said.
“We have noted with deep concern the decision of the Indian Supreme Court regarding the historic Babri Masjid. The decision has, once again, failed to uphold the demands of justice," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“As the United Nations recently noted that Indian Supreme Court’s response to human rights petitions in the context of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir was slow, this decision points out that when it acts, it is unable to protect the interests of India’s minorities," it said.
“This decision has shredded the veneer of so-called secularism of India by making clear that minorities in India are no longer safe; they have to fear for their beliefs and for their places of worship," it said.
“The Indian government should ensure the protection of Muslims, their lives, rights and properties and avoid being yet again a silent spectator of Muslims becoming the victims of Hindu extremists and zealots," it said urging the international community to play a role by restraining India from pursuing an “extremist ideology."
In its response, the Indian foreign ministry said it rejected the “unwarranted and gratuitous comments" made by Pakistan on a civil matter “that is completely internal to India".
“It pertains to the rule of law and equal respect for all faiths, concepts that are not part of their ethos," the Indian statement said. “So, while Pakistan's lack of comprehension is not surprising, their pathological compulsion to comment on our internal affairs with the obvious intent of spreading hatred is condemnable," it added.
The sharp exchange of words followed the two countries announcing the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor that will allow Indian pilgrims to cross from Dera Baba Nanak gurudwara in Gurdaspur district of Punjab to the Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Narowal district via the corridor.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first to open the corridor from the Indian side, thanking his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for “respecting the sentiment of Indians" and agreeing to launch the crossing.
Khan, on his part, said he hoped that the opening of the corridor “is the beginning" of ties turning a corner.
Ties between India and Pakistan have been tense for months. The heightening of tensions began with a terrorist suicide bomb attack in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops in February. India conducted an aerial strike on Pakistan’s Balakot region, which was responded to by Pakistan with an air raid on Indian military installations in Kashmir that the Indian Air Force foiled.
Ties deteriorated again after New Delhi revoked Article 370 of its constitution and took away the special status given to Kashmir under the constitution. India also divided the state into two union territories to be directly administered by New Delhi.
India’s move on Kashmir was a key talking point for Khan in his speech at the Kartarpur Corridor opening in Narowal district on Saturday. He said the situation in Indian Kashmir had become more than a territorial issue.
“Today what’s happening in Kashmir is beyond a territorial issue. It’s a human rights issue. It is an issue of humanity," Khan said.
The reference was to India cutting off communication links, detaining some political leaders and enforcing restrictions on the movements of people in Kashmir.
“All our relations are at a halt. If (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is listening to me, I would say justice (for the Kashmiris) brings peace. Give justice to the Kashmiris," he said.
On the opening of the corridor, Khan said he was happy to open the corridor for the benefit of the Sikhs all over the world.