Kartarpur/New Delhi: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said Pakistan wants a "strong" and "civilised" relationship with India and the two countries can resolve all issues, including Kashmir, with determination as he laid the foundation stone for a historic corridor linking two revered gurdwaras on both sides of the border.
The much-awaited corridor will connect Darbar Sahib in Pakistan's Kartarpur - the final resting place of Sikh faith's founder Guru Nanak Dev - with Dera Baba Nanak shrine in India's Gurdaspur district and facilitate visa-free movement of Indian Sikh pilgrims, who will have to just obtain a permit to visit Kartarpur.
Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan is located across the river Ravi, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine. It was established in 1522 by Guru Nanak Dev who is believed to have spent 18 years here.
The first Gurdwara, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, was built in Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak is said to have died.
"We want to move forward in our relations with India," Imran Khan said while addressing the ceremony which was attended by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, government officials, Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri and foreign diplomats.
"If France and Germany who fought several wars can live in peace, why can't India and Pakistan," Imran Khan said.
He said Pakistan and India cannot understand the opportunities God has given to them.
Imran Khan said whenever he visited India, he was told that politicians are united, but the Army won't allow the friendship between the two sides.
"I am saying today, that our political leaders, our army, and all other institutions are all on one page. 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?" Imran Khan asked.
"I assure you that we can solve this problem. But determination and big dreams are necessary. Imagine, once trade begins, once our relationship is fixed, how much both nations could benefit," he said and reiterated that if India takes one step forward, Pakistan will take two steps forward in friendship.
Imran Khan said that there have been "mistakes on both sides" and asserted that the two sides should not live in the past.
"Where Pakistan and India stand today, we have seen such a situation for 70 years now," Imran Khan said.
"We will stay stuck this way unless we break the shackles of the past and stop blaming each other," he said, adding that the two neighbours must improve their ties.
He said the citizens of both countries want peace and it is just the leadership which needs to be on same page.
The Pakistan prime minister appreciated the joy on the faces around him.
"The happiness I see in you today, if I were to explain to my Muslim brother and sisters, is that imagine that you are standing 4-km outside Medina (a city in Saudi Arabia where the Prophet is buried) and cannot go in, and you are then given the chance to go. That is the happiness I see here."
He assured the Sikh community that facilities at Kartarpur Sahib will be even better for 550th birth celebrations for Guru Nanak Dev next year.
"We will keep improving the Kartarpur darbar for you," Imran Khan told thousand of Sikh pilgrims from both India and Pakistan who were present at the ceremony.
Imran Khan said India and Pakistan need more steps like this (Kartarpur Corridor) for peace in the South Asian region.
The Kartarpur Corridor, which will facilitate the visa-free travel of Indian Sikh pilgrims to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, is expected to be completed within six months.
Thousands of Sikh devotees from India visit Pakistan every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
India had proposed the corridor to Pakistan around 20 years back.
Punjab cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who also attended the ceremony, said there had been enough violence and that the corridor would be a major opportunity to bring peace to the region.
Harsimrat Kaur, who also spoke on the occasion, said if the Berlin Wall can fall, hatred and mistrust between India and Pakistan can also end.
An emotional Kaur said the corridor will bring joy and peace to both countries.
Last week, Pakistan and India announced that they would develop the corridor on their respective side of the border to help Indian pilgrims visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur.
India-Pakistan ties nose-dived in recent years with no bilateral talks taking place. The ties between the two countries had strained after the terror attacks by Pakistan-based groups in 2016.
Pakistan had invited External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who thanked her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi for the invite and said she was unable to travel to Kartarpur Sahib due to prior commitments.
The issue of Kartarpur Sahib came into focus after Sidhu visited Pakistan in August to attend the oath-taking ceremony of his cricketer-turned-politician friend Imran Khan as prime minister of that country. After his return, Sidhu said that Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had told him that Pakistan may open a corridor to Kartarpur Sahib....