Imran Khan uses border crossing to push reconciliation with India
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