Islamabad: Pakistan has decided to invite former prime minister Manmohan Singh to attend the inaugural ceremony of the landmark Kartarpur Corridor in November, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday.
The corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur in Pakistan with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian pilgrims, who will only have to obtain a permit to visit the revered Kartarpur Sahib.
While the Congress remained tight-lipped about the issue, sources said the office of the former prime minister has no information about the invite so far.
The sources said he is unlikely to go as he had not visited Pakistan even during his tenure as prime minister for 10 years.
Pakistan is scheduled to open the Kartarpur Corridor for Indian Sikh pilgrims on November 9, days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak on November 12.
“The Kartarpur Corridor inauguration is a big programme and Pakistan is preparing for it in a big way,” Qureshi said, noting that prime minister Imran Khan has a personal interest in it.
“After consultations, Pakistan has decided to invite Manmohan Singh to the inauguration, who we hold in high regard. He will represent the Sikh community,” he said.
Pakistan has agreed to allow 5,000 Sikh pilgrims from India to visit on a daily basis to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Narowal through the Kartarpur corridor.
“On behalf of the government, as the foreign minister of Pakistan, I invite him to attend the inauguration of the Kartarpur Corridor,” said Qureshi, adding that the government also intends to send a formal written invitation to the 87-year-old leader.
Qureshi, while justifying the decision to invite the senior Congress Party leader, said Sikhism was Singh’s religion and that he was a representative of the Sikh community.
“We are also very happy to receive the Sikh pilgrims who are coming to Kartarpur to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak,” Qureshi said.
Kartarpur Corridor Project Director Atif Majid earlier this month said that 86 per cent of the work on the corridor has been completed.
During the last round of talks on the Kartarpur corridor held recently, Pakistan showed inflexibility and gave unfavourable responses on issues of charging a service fee, the number of pilgrims to be allowed on special occasions and allowing protocol officials to accompany them.
There were three issues on which the Indian side had asked Pakistan to show some flexibility — their insistence on charging USD 20 per pilgrim, allowing 10,000 pilgrims on special occasions and Indian protocol officer to accompany the delegation that visits Kartarpur everyday.
Pakistan and India have kept the corridor project insulated from their recent bilateral tensions over New Delhi revoking the special status to Jammu and Kashmir.