NEW DELHI :
Pakistan will invite former prime minister Manmohan Singh for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor, which gives passage to Indian pilgrims to visit the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. Islamabad’s intention to invite Singh was conveyed by foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a video message made public on Monday.
“The Kartarpur corridor inauguration is a big programme and Pakistan is preparing for it in a big way. We have decided to invite India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh to grace the event... We will send a formal letter to him soon," Qureshi said, adding that Pakistan was also looking forward to receive Sikh pilgrims coming to Kartarpur to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak.
Singh is the first Sikh prime minister of India, and traces his roots to Gah, a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
According to a senior Congress leader, Singh had not received any invite till Monday evening. “In the 10 years of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister of the country, he had never visited Pakistan."
Watch | Pakistan invites ex-PM Manmohan Singh for Kartarpur corridor inauguration
During his tenure as prime minister, Singh had said he would like to go to Pakistan, but not without clinching any concrete agreement on issues such as demarcation of the maritime boundary in Sir Creek off the Gujarat coast, or both sides agreeing to pull out troops from Siachen. With neither working out and tensions mounting after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the plans remained on the drawing board. Though ties thawed later, Singh did not make the trip.
In 2015, Narendra Modi’s a surprise visit to Lahore was the first by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade. But soon after, several terrorist attacks in India in 2016 resulted in declining relations between the two neighbours.
“This (invitation to Singh) is a mischievous move by Pakistan," said former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal. “The motive is to drive a wedge" between Singh’s Congress and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, he added. “There is a very large degree of consensus in India on Pakistan," he said adding that Islamabad will not succeed in its aim.
In August 2018, the Congress government in Punjab led by Captain Amarinder Singh had faced flak when Navjot Singh Sidhu, a state minister, hugged Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa during his visit to Pakistan for the swearing-in of Imran Khan as prime minister.
In August, Pakistan also used the name of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in its petition on Kashmir filed before the United Nations.
Despite India-Pakistan ties plummeting and rising tensions following New Delhi’s move to abrogate Article 370 of its constitution in August to integrate Jammu and Kashmir more closely with India, work on the corridor continued. Officials of the two countries worked out the modalities for the opening of the corridor, which will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarput with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab. Pakistan has agreed to facilitate visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims, who will only have to obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur Sahib. Both countries have also agreed that 5,000 Sikh visitors will be allowed to visit the shrine everyday, though the number is later expected to rise to 10,000, said officials on both sides. Modi will flag off the opening of the corridor from the Indian side on 9 November.