PM Imran Khan’s message for Narendra Modi: Justice leads to peace – Injustice breeds anarchy

Faizan Bangash & Sher Ali Khalti

Kartarpur – Panjab – Pakistan, 10 November 2019. With the opening of Kartarpur Corridor in Pakistan, the Sikh community in India has been provided easy and direct access to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Devji.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, situated in Kartarpur (Shakargarh, Narowal), is the second holiest place for the Sikh community.

While inaugurating the Kartarpur Corridor here on Saturday, Prime Minister Imran Khan termed it a gift for the Sikh community all-over the world, especially those living in India, from the people and Government of Pakistan. He welcomed thousands of Sikh pilgrims from India in Pakistan and urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue.

Urging his Indian counterpart to give justice to Kashmiris, PM Imran said prosperity in South Asia region was only possible if Kashmir issue was resolved. “It’s just a beginning; let’s hope the relationship between India and Pakistan becomes like it should have been,” added the PM. The premier said Narendra Modi must know that justice brings peace and hatred causes chaos in a society.

He said a leader was the one who brings people together and doesn’t divide them to get their votes through spread of hatred. “When I was elected as the prime minister, I told (Narendra) Modi our biggest problem is poverty.

I told him that if we open our borders, mutual trade will eliminate poverty,” Imran Khan said while addressing the people of both countries at Kartarpur Corridor. He called upon Indian premier to give justice to the people of occupied Kashmir.

Imran said, “Eight million people in occupied Kashmir are being treated like animals. They have been brought under forcible rule of 900,000 Indians troops.” He warned Modi to end injustice as such decisions bring chaos.

He urged the Indian premier to give justice to the people of occupied Kashmir and liberate the Subcontinent. He said the problem of occupied Kashmir had gone beyond a dispute over territory and became a human rights issue.

Once justice was done to Kashmiris and their right to self-determination was given to them, situation of the entire region would improve. “Look at Germany and France, both countries fought wars and killed thousands. Today, their borders are open and trade has brought progress to the region.”

Imran Khan said that justice was only reflected in society of human beings and urged the Indian PM to rid the region of the dispute of Kashmir. The PM also recalled the role of great African statesman Nelson Mandela for playing the role of a leader for his country and uniting the people.

Appreciating the teachings of Baba Guru Nanak Devji in his speech, he said: “There is humanity in the philosophy of Guru Nanak. Humanity is what separates human beings from animals. Our God also talks about humanity and our Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent as a blessing for all mankind.”

The PM congratulated the government officials and ministers over swift and on-time completion of the Kartarpur Corridor project. He said, “I learnt a year ago about the value of Kartarpur Sahib. This is the Madina for the Sikhs of the world.”

He said that the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and other departments and ministries concerned worked diligently and completed the project in just 10 months. He said he did not know fully how efficient and capable his government was.

Addressing the ceremony, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said it was a historic moment for Sikhs. “Imran Khan has created history with Kartarpur Corridor; Kartarpur has been opened for Sikhs from all over the world,” he added.

The foreign minister congratulated the Sikh all over the world on opening of the Kartarpur Corridor and welcomed the Sikh pilgrims present at their holy site. He said, “The doors of Kartarpur Sahib are open for the Sikh community.”

The foreign minister said “we need to see today who was sowing the seeds of hatred in the region”. He congratulated Prime Minister Imran Khan on the opening of the historic corridor.

Qureshi said, “09 November was also the day when the Berlin Wall fell, which changed the map of Europe”.

The foreign minister said, “If the Kartarpur Corridor can open, then the LoC’s temporary closure can also be ended.”

He said that the way the doors of Kartarpur have been opened, the doors of Srinagar’s Jama mosque should also be opened so that Muslims could pray the Friday prayers there.

Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also forced to thank Prime Minister Imran Khan over opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. Speaking at an event, Modi said Prime Minister Imran had understood the emotions of the Indian people. “I would like to thank the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, for understanding the sentiments of the people of India,” he said.

He said that it had become easier for Sikh pilgrims to go to Guru Nanak’s Gurdwara because of the corridor. “I would like to thank the authorities in Pakistan who helped create this corridor in a short span of time,” he said.

“Imran Khan has made history,” said Navjot Singh Sidhu at the inaugural ceremony of Kartarpur Corridor. He termed it an ointment on the wounds of people who witnessed bloodshed during the Partition.

He called Imran Khan the ‘king of hearts’. He said Alexander the Great had won hearts of people because of fear, while Imran Khan won hearts of people by promoting peace.

He thanked Imran Khan for taking a bold step. He said for the first time in the history, boundaries between the two countries have been dismantled. “No one can deny the contribution of Imran Khan,” said Sidhu and sent Munna Bhai MBBS’s hug for Modi.

He demanded opening of borders so that people could have their breakfast in India, their lunch in Lahore and then return to their homes in India after completing their trade and business tasks.

Former Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Chief Minister of Indian Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh, Bollywood actor and Indian parliamentarian Sunny Deol, Panjab CM Sardar Usman Buzdar, Panjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar and other noted figures were also present on the occasion.

Sikh Yatris from different cities of India including Amristsar, Ambala, Patiala, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Chandigarh, Delhi as well as from different nations like Canada, USA, France, England, Sweden were present at the inauguration ceremony.

While expressing their views, Yatris unanimously hailed the project and expressed the hope that further relaxation would also be given to them so that they could visit Panjab as per their will.

Besides, the Sikh community members from Pakistan including former MPA Ramesh Singh Arora, sitting MPA Mahender Pal Singh and others also lauded the role of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in successful completion of the project.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Pir Noorul Haq Qadri also addressed the ceremony.

He said the inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor was the greatest message of peace after the Partition in 1947. He said the prime minister had fulfilled his commitment to provide access to Sikh community to visit their holy shrines.

He said while being in Baghdad, Baba Guru Nanak used to visit the shrine of Imam Musa Kazim daily which gave a message of harmony as he had devoted his life for peace and harmony.

The Akal Takht Jathedar, Giani Harpreet Singh said by opening of Kartarpur Corridor, the 70-year old demand of Sikhs had been fulfilled for what they were thankful to both the governments.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/553558-imran-s-message-for-modi-justice-leads-to-peace-injustice-breeds-anarchy

Sikh24.com – Kartarpur Corridor $20 fee: Punjab government and SGPC should share financial burden of pilgrims who couldn’t afford

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 21 October 2019. The Dal Khalsa has today urged the Punjab government and the SGPC to equally share the financial burden of pilgrims who couldn’t afford $20 fee proposed by Pakistan for visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through Kartarpur Sahib corridor.

At the same time, the organization has also urged the Pakistan government to reduce the fee to a level that economically weak pilgrims could easily afford the pilgrimage.

“We urge the SGPC and Panjab government to work out modalities and bear the expenses of a pilgrim, who could not afford but desire to have darshan deedare of Guru Nanak’s place”, reads a statement by the Dal Khalsa.

“On the other hand, Pakistan administration too needs to reduce the fee to half,” it added.

Party spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh said the stalemate on the matter was unfortunate. He hailed the Pakistan PM Imran Khan for honoring its commitment on completing the corridor project despite heightened tension with India after New Delhi took retrograde step and strip J&K of its autonomous status unilaterally.

He chided the Indian government and its political stooges in Punjab for precipitating the issue to a level of name calling. Indian government should keep in mind that it had levied GST on langar items despite strong opposition from Sikh institutions, said he.

He further said if Punjab government could bear the entire costs of boarding and lodging of all pilgrims from Amritsar, Talwandi Sabo and Anandpur Sahib to Hazoor Sahib in 2015-2016, under the Tirath Yatra Scheme, there was no point in denying it to pilgrims to Kartarpur Sahib.

He urged former minister Navjot Singh Sidhu to come out of political wilderness and take active part in inauguration ceremony on both side as those who had no role or negative role were claiming the credit of Kartarpur corridor.

“People of Punjab have not forgotten the role of Sidhu as it was he, who brought the cheerful message that was awaited since decades from across the border”, said he.

Kartarpur Corridor $20 fee: Punjab government and SGPC should share financial burden of pilgrims who couldn’t afford

The Hindu – Sidhu remarks affected Congress in Bathinda

Performance of all Ministers including Sidhu will be reviewed, he says

Special Correspondent

Chandigarh – Panjab – India,  24 May 2019. The Congress may have been in the driver’s seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll in Punjab, yet Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday took a dig at his Cabinet colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu saying he would soon take up with the party high command his damaging remarks ahead of polling, which might have affected the party’s performance in Bathinda.

He said the performance of the Ministers would be reviewed in the backdrop of the results. “We will review the performance. It was not a veiled threat made by the party before the elections,” he said at a press conference here.

Though he refused to comment directly on the possible impact of Mr Sidhu’s comments, Captain Amarinder said “as a Minister, Sidhu’s own performance needs to be reviewed”. Asserting that Mr. Sidhu had not been able to handle his department, the Chief Minister made it clear that he intended to take up the issue with the high command.

“The Congress in Punjab performed poorly in urban areas and Sidhu is the Minister for Urban Development,” Captain Amarinder said.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/sidhu-remarks-affected-cong-in-bathinda/article27229372.ece

The Statesman – Sidhu, Chidambaram raise questions on air strike casualties

New Delhi – India, 04 March 2019. The Congress on Monday again demanded that the actual number of terrorists killed in the IAF air strike be revealed while accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of politicising the operation.

Congress leader and minister in the Punjab government Navjot Singh Sidhu on Monday raised questions on the air strike and media reports that around 300 terrorists had been killed in the operation carried out on 26 February.

“300 terrorist dead, Yes or No? What was the purpose then? Were you uprooting terrorist or trees? Was it an election gimmick?” Sidhu wrote on Twitter.

“Deceit possesses our land in guise of fighting a foreign enemy. Stop politicising the army, it is as sacred as the state,” he added.

https://www.thestatesman.com/india/sidhu-chidambaram-raise-questions-on-air-strike-casualties-1502736413.html

Dawn – Corridors and other peace openings

“Dekha to phir vaheen thay chalay thay jahan se hum – Kashti kay saath saath kinaray chalay gaye”

(We found ourselves to be where we had begun our journey. The coast moved as did the boat.)

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 30 November 2018. The above is a couplet by Saifuddin Saif. Many of you will be familiar with his name as a poet of exceptional talent who carved a prominent place for himself among the progressive giants of his time.

He traversed a familiar course, via Amritsar and Lahore, that brought enlightenment and fame to him and many of his contemporaries.

Saif was also a filmmaker with a message, and his name flashed in the mind just as a group of Pakistanis and Indians gathered together on the front lines to mark the opening of a corridor that will facilitate Indian visitors to Gurdwara Kartarpur in Narowal.

Saifuddin Saif directed, and wrote and produced, Kartar Singh in the late 1950s, which has to be one of the more discussed feature films made in Pakistan.

In recent years, the film has been screened for selective viewing and a very watchable version of it is available on the internet. It is invaluable material for those who want to get a hang of what makes Pakistan and India and their relationship what it is.

Saif’s is a complex story of human bonding and conflicts, culminating in a born-again good-doer Kartar Singh’s accidental but perfectly explicable killing just when he is about to bring the people on this side of the border their missing son from the land beyond.

It is a lesson in just how fast things go out of control and get messy and ugly even for a group of people who have a common legacy born of a life together over centuries.

Those who agree with the idea of peace in Pakistan and India have spent the last seven decades waiting for the right combination.

Saif as a socialist, or was he a communist, must never have wanted it that way but the progress on Kartar Singh’s theme has been slow and sluggish. The fact that we have been unable to remake ‘Kartar Singhs’ with the frequency that the urgency of the topic demanded is reflective of just how tough it has been.

We, meaning those who agree with the idea of peace in Pakistan and India, have spent the last seven decades waiting for the right combination. The right setup on our side and a corresponding viable equation on the other side to provide us with real hope for a peace dialogue.

It has been observed that as popular contributions go, we had a slightly better chance of helping develop the right combination on our side.

The hope always was that sober people on the other side, with whom we have shared a common heritage, would simultaneously find and establish their own ‘right’ combo for the two countries to engage in a, what is the word, ‘meaningful’ search for solutions.

There has been a clearance sale of formulas. Formulas that can bring about a miraculous friendship between people who cohabited a country before a partition, an inevitable event in the end, separated them and placed some new real or imagined constraints upon them.

The simplest of them all was the one which found expression in General Pervez Musharraf’s peace expedition to India in 2001, the Agra near-miracle as it is remembered with some sense of loss.

Some of his admirers believe to this day that Gen Musharraf possessed some secret charms that he could work on those he met.

In a long series of shortcut answers, he epitomised the one-man squad from Pakistan, who almost succeeded, with his disarming personality, to steal some kind of a permanent solution from right under the noses of prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his associates.

But right then, Indian democracy intervened to thwart Musharraf’s heist.

It is considered by so many in the country to have been a close miss. Since we in Pakistan often consider consensus to be as undesirable a byproduct of democracy as democracy itself, it was thought by many here that Musharraf’s effort was in vain.

We will have to wait for another general with the required dare and dash to try and conquer India for us again, unless, we from the beginning have believed in the alternative solution.

The alternative solution was actually the real answer. It was the original answer. Maybe more so in recent decades but perhaps even before that, we in Pakistan have been told that there will be some definite signs indicating real and irreversible positive movement on India.

We have been fed the notion that there will have to be total agreement between an elected government led by a politician from a federally dominant Punjab and the country’s military chief for any hope of headway in ties with India.

This was one reason why those steeped in old logic would be so eager to keep an eye on what kind of relationship Nawaz Sharif, three-time prime minister of Pakistan, had with his army chief.

In time, the monitors realised that Mian Sahib possessed an uncanny ability to distance his army chief from the avowed ideals, peace with India included, which the PML-N chief held dear as prime minister.

The dream was shattered for those swearing by the theory, to find later another manifestation of their ideal combination in the Imran Khan-Gen Qamar Bajwa pairing.

The new expectations and dreams are linked to the overtures the jadoo ki japphi or the miraculous healing influence that General Bajwa’s greeting of Indian ex-cricketer and politician Navjot Singh Sidhu in Islamabad in August signified.

The Kartarpur opening which was inaugurated on Wednesday is a most welcome restart that will hopefully not be allowed to turn into a wasted opportunity and not be allowed to act as some kind of a gloss-over event to eclipse serious disputed areas, not least of them Kashmir, that must be sensibly embraced and talked through.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1448554/corridors-and-other-peace-openings

The Statesman – Kartarpur Sahib, A corridor for the faithful to the resting place of Guru Nanak

On Thursday, just a day before the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the Union Cabinet decided to build and develop a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the international border for Sikh pilgrims to visit Pakistan’s Kartarpur Sahib gurdwara.

Manas Sen Gupta

New Delhi – India, 23 November 2018. Navjot Singh Sidhu was perhaps the happiest man on Thursday when the Centre cleared the decks for the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor upto the International Border with Pakistan in what marks as a major diplomatic move by New Delhi just a few months before the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Following his visit to Pakistan in September this year, Sidhu, a Congress leader and minister in Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s cabinet, had said that Islamabad was willing to open a corridor for pilgrims to access the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur Sahib on the banks of the river Ravi in Pakistan.

India’s decision

On Thursday, just a day before the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the Union Cabinet decided to build and develop a corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district to the international border for Sikh pilgrims to visit Pakistan.

“The Kartarpur corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year.

Government of Pakistan will be urged to reciprocate and develop a corridor with suitable facilities in their territories,” Home Minister Rajjnath Singh tweeted following the decision which was taken in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian government will also approach Pakistan to reciprocate to the peace initiative.

In a tweet Sidhu, too, urged Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to take steps to complete the corridor for the easy access for Indian Sikh pilgrims to the historic Gurdwara on the Pakistani side.

The Congress leader tweeted, “I thank the Government of India from the core of my heart and take a bow! I request the Honourable PM of Pakistan Imran Khan Sahib to take reciprocal steps for opening the Kartarpur Sahib corridor and spread Baba Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood and peace across the Globe.”

Welcoming the Cabinet decision, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for acceding to his request for celebrating the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, to be held in 2019, in a grand manner.

Pakistan, too, welcomed India’s decision and announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan will lay the foundation stone for Kartarpur corridor on 28 November and it will be opened ahead of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebrations.

“It is a step in the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border,” Pakistan Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry tweeted.

“We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion,” the Minister added.

Kartarpur Sahib’s history

Kartarpur was founded by Guru Nanak in 1515 AD. After completing four ‘Udaseean’ (journeys) in all four directions, Guru Nanak spent the last 18 years of his life in this town, which is today located in tehsil Shakargarh, Narowal District, Punjab, Pakistan. Guru Nanak appointed Guru Angad his successor in Kartarpur.

Following his demise, both the Hindu and Muslim followers of Guru Nanak argued over the last rites of the first Sikh Guru. While the Muslims wanted to bury his body, the Hindus wanted to cremate him.

They decided to settle the matter by placing flowers over his body and agreed that whosoever’s flowers do not wither by morning shall have the right to the last rites. When the two groups returned the next day, they found the body missing but the flowers as fresh as they were a day before.

The two groups thus decided to divide the flowers and carry out last rites according to their respective wishes. This is why Kartarpur Sahib has both a Samadhi and a grave of Guru Nanak.

The main shrine, as it stands today, was built on the Samadhi. The grave is outside on the courtyard.

Located around three kilometres inside Pakistan from the International Border, the foundation of the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara came up during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) on the site where Guru Nanak left for his heavenly abode in 1539.

According to Pakistani writer Haroon Khalid, author of Walking with Nanak, the Gurdwara fell to ruin as Sikhs in Pakistan left for India following partition. The site became a den of smugglers and drug addicts as there was not many around for the upkeep of the Gurdwara.

The site was somehow maintained by the Muslim followers of Guru Nanak, who continued to pray at the site.

Currently, Sikh jathas visit Kartarpur Sahib on four occasions every year, Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary, Baisakhi, Guru Arjan Dev’s martyrdom day and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death anniversary.

To read the full article:

https://www.thestatesman.com/india/kartarpur-sahib-a-corridor-for-the-faithful-to-the-resting-place-of-guru-nanak-1502710616.html

The Hindustan Times – Navjot Singh Sidhu, wife summoned by commission probing Amritsar train tragedy

Navjot Kaur, a former legislator and ex chief parliamentary secretary, was the chief guest at the Dussehra festival near Joda Phatak when the DMU train crushed those standing on the railway tracks.

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 31 October 2018. Punjab Cabinet Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu and his wife Navjot Kaur have been summoned by a one-man commission conducting an inquiry into the Amritsar train tragedy in which 60 people were killed on October 19.

Senior IAS officer B. Purushartha, who is conducting the inquiry in Amritsar, has asked the Sidhu couple to appear before the commission on November 2 (Friday).

Navjot Kaur, a former legislator and ex chief parliamentary secretary, was the chief guest at the Dussehra festival near Joda Phatak when the DMU (diesel multiple unit) train crushed those standing on the railway tracks.

Sixty people lost their lives and an equal number were injured in the train tragedy.

Opposition leaders and locals alleged that Navjot Kaur fled the scene after the train mowed down the people.

There are allegations that the event was organised without mandatory permissions, which had to be given by the municipal corporation which falls under the local government department headed by Sidhu.

The main organizer of the event, Saurabh Madan Mithoo, is a close political aide of the Sidhu couple.

Mithoo, his family members and other organizers were questioned by the inquiry commission in Amritsar, over 250 km from here, on Tuesday for over four hours.

The commission has been asked to submit its report within four weeks.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/sidhu-wife-summoned-by-commission-probing-amritsar-train-tragedy/story-oPl6pru0EYW5rdSeZP1CXN.html

Dawn – Passage to peace

Editorial, 21 September 2018. In the run-up to the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak next year, the historical Darbar Sahib shrine in Shakargarh, just 4 km across the border from India, has been in the news.

Many groups of Sikh are pressing for opening a passage from the Indian side to what is one of the most venerable sites of their faith.

The debate was provided fresh impetus when army chief General Qamar Bajwa reportedly told a visiting Indian politician and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu that Pakistan was working to open the Kartarpur corridor for the benefit of Sikh pilgrims.

The remarks from someone so influential have led to many questions in Islamabad and New Delhi. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has confirmed that the initiative has been taken after gathering input from the national institutions concerned.

He has said that work was under way on the passage, categorically promising that the Kartarpur border would be opened.

The Pakistani resolve on the subject will be welcomed by all those who favour encouraging people-to-people channels that can connect Pakistanis and Indians. These contacts are essential to building a relationship of peaceful coexistence between Pakistan and India.

One hopes this ‘proposal’ is reciprocated by Delhi, which some months ago denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims wanting to visit the shrines of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti and Khawaja Nizamuddin Aulia.

On its part, Pakistan must come up with the formal follow-up, such as officially communicating the idea to India. The Indian response to the opening of the Kartarpur passage in recent years has been negative.

Only last year, a parliamentary committee on that side of the border rejected the idea, saying that the time was not right for such a move, and accusing Pakistan of continued hostilities.

It is still a tall order despite the goodwill represented by the many dreamers on either side of the border. Let us hope that it is not beyond the two neighbours to pleasantly surprise their people once in a while.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1434220/passage-to-peace

Dawn – Government ‘proposes’ Kartarpur border opening to India

Lahore – Panjab – Pakistan, 08 September 2018. The government on Friday said it had proposed to open the Kartarpur border crossing with India for Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib without visa.

“There is a proposal to open Kartarpur border and after that the Indian Sikhs visiting the gurdwara will be required to have a ticket,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn.

The Kartarpur gurdwara is located in Narowal district near the Indian border.

Earlier, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had hinted at opening the Kartarpur border on the occasion of Baba Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary next year for Sikh pilgrims when he met cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu during his visit here in the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Last month Indian High Commissioner Ajay Basariya had also visited Kartarpur border.

A source told Dawn that the PTI government had not yet taken the Evacuee Trust Property Board (which looks after holy places of minorities) into confidence in this regard.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1431623/govt-proposes-kartarpur-border-opening-to-india

Dawn – Joint Pakistan-India drills leave Sidhu critics red-faced

Jawed Naqvi

New Delhi – India, 25 August 2018. Hindutva groups have slammed former Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for hugging Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa recently, but a joint military exercise against terrorism under way in Russia involving contingents from India and Pakistan has left the critics red-faced.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has praised Mr Sidhu’s friendly gesture for being present at the swearing-in ceremony where the latter embraced General Bajwa who had made friendly comments about peace between the two countries.

Rightwing activist Sudhir Kumar Ojha, known for indicting celebrities, alleged in a petition filed with Muzaffarpur’s chief judicial magistrate (CJM) Hari Prasad that Mr Sidhu insulted the families of Indian soldiers killed by Pakistan’s army by hugging General Bajwa and sitting next to Azad Kashmir’s president Masood Khan on Saturday.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said Mr Sidhu’s visit to Pakistan, especially his hug with Pakistan army chief, was “shameful”. Mr Sidhu is a minister in the Congress government in Punjab.

Mr Sidhu clarified his stand on the issue.

“If someone (referring to General Bajwa) comes to me and says that we belong to the same culture and we will open Kartarpur border on Guru Nanak Dev’s 550th Prakash Parv (birth anniversary), what else I could do?”

Mr Sidhu while responding to the media queries: “If you are invited as a guest of honour somewhere, you sit wherever you are asked to. I was sitting somewhere else but they asked me to sit there,” he added.

Mr Ojha said it was unbecoming of Sidhu to attend the celebrations in the neighbouring country at a time when the nation was mourning the death of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“I have urged the court to book Siddhu under IPC sections 124 A, 153 B and 504 for hurting the nation’s sentiments and order for his arrest,” he said.

Imran Khan on Tuesday came out in support of Mr Sidhu.

“I want to thank Sidhu for coming to Pakistan for my oath taking. He was an ambassador of peace and was given amazing love and affection by people of Pakistan,” Mr Khan tweeted soon after Sidhu’s press conference.

“Those in India who targeted him are doing a great disservice to peace in the subcontinent, without peace, our people cannot progress,” Mr Khan said.

To move forward, he said Pakistan and India must engage in dialogue and resolve their conflicts, including the Kashmir issue.

“The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading,” he said.

Mr Sidhu during the press conference said his visit to Pakistan was not “political” but just on a “warm invitation from a friend”.

In a first such event, military personnel from India and Pakistan are participating in an anti-terrorism exercise organised by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Russia. The exercise is aimed at enhancing cooperation between member states to deal with the growing threat of terrorism and extremism.

The exercise will see tactical-level operation being carried out in an international counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism environment.

Around 3,000 soldiers from India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are taking part in the exercise.

The Indian contingent has 200 personnel, mainly from the infantry and other arms along with some from the Indian Air Force.

The training schedule for the Indian contingent includes target practice, house intervention drills, tactical and heliborne operations and combat conditioning, reports said.

They said the joint drills will build mutual confidence, interoperability and sharing of knowledge among troops of SCO members.

In previous editions, only Central Asian nations participated.

With India and Pakistan joining the exercise, SCO’s counter-terrorism mission has expanded to South Asia, a region in a grip of terrorism and extremism.

Former army officials loyal to the BJP were at a loss to explain why it was wrong for Mr Sidhu to hug the Pakistan army chief when contingents from the two countries were trying to sort out the menace of terrorism jointly.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1428802/joint-pakistan-india-drills-leave-sidhu-critics-red-faced