Im­ran Khan uses bor­der cross­ing to push rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with In­dia

The National - News - - WORLD - BEN FARMER Is­lam­abad

Pak­istani leader Im­ran Khan used the open­ing of a new bor­der cross­ing for Sikh pil­grims to re­launch a push for bet­ter ties with es­tranged neigh­bour In­dia.

In a rare mo­ment of co­op­er­a­tion, the nu­clear-armed ri­vals met on Wed­nes­day to ar­range visa-free ac­cess to a Sikh holy site just in­side Pak­istan.

Mr Khan claimed he, his party and Pak­istan’s pow­er­ful mil­i­tary that In­dia ac­cuses of sab­o­tag­ing for­mer peace ef­forts, all wanted to mend ties.

“We wish to move for­ward; we want a civilised re­la­tion­ship. We have just one prob­lem, Kash­mir. If man can walk on the Moon, what prob­lems are there that we can­not re­solve,” Mr Khan said in a speech to open the cross­ing at Kar­tarpur.

Res­tat­ing a pre­vi­ous claim, Mr Khan said “if In­dia takes one step for­ward then we will take two steps for­ward to­wards friend­ship”.

Navjot Singh Sidhu, a one­time crick­et­ing con­tem­po­rary of Mr Khan and now tourism min­is­ter of In­dia’s bor­der state of Pun­jab, echoed his calls for progress.

“Both govern­ments should re­alise that we have to move for­ward,” he said.

But hours be­fore the foun­da­tion stone was laid, Delhi ap­par­ently made clear it would re­buff Mr Khan’s over­tures, say­ing there could be no di­a­logue un­til Pak­istan stopped ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties in In­dia.

In­dia also said it would not at­tend a re­gional sum­mit to be hosted in Pak­istan.

Diplo­matic sources say In­dian lead­ers be­lieve it is po­lit­i­cally risky to drop their guard and en­ter peace talks so close to next spring’s gen­eral elec­tion. They have in the past ac­cused el­e­ments of Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary of sab­o­tag­ing peace ef­forts with at­tacks by mil­i­tant prox­ies.

Khawaja Muham­mad Asif, a for­mer Pak­istani for­eign min­is­ter, said the open­ing was “a good ges­ture for peace in the sub­con­ti­nent”. But he said In­dia was down­play­ing the event. “Such ini­tia­tives must bring div­i­dends [but] I am afraid not in this case.”

The bor­der cross­ing cor­ri­dor for Sikh pil­grims from In­dia to visit the Gur­d­wara Dar­bar Sahib shrine has been dis­cussed for three decades, only to be post­poned as the neigh­bours lurched from cri­sis to cri­sis.

Mr Khan wrote to his In­dian coun­ter­part, Naren­dra Modi, in Septem­ber in an at­tempt to re­vive ties, sug­gest­ing that their for­eign min­is­ters meet on the side­lines of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly.

But his olive branch was re­jected and the ini­tia­tive quickly de­scended into ac­ri­mony. In­dia at­tacked Pak­istan’s “evil agenda”, while Mr Khan re­tal­i­ated by call­ing Mr Modi a “small man” who lacked vi­sion.

Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan, cen­tre, at the Kar­tarpur bor­der cross­ing that will al­low Sikh pil­grims from In­dia to visit a re­li­gious shrine just in­side Pak­istan

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