Kartarpur: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Saturday raked up the Kashmir issue at the inauguration of the historic Kartarpur corridor and urged India to end all restrictions in the Valley imposed after New Delhi scrapped Jammu and Kashmir's special status.
Prime Minister Khan inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor for the followers of Guru Nanak Dev, allowing them to visit the revered founder of Sikhism's final resting place in Pakistan's Punjab province.
The corridor provides visa-free access to Sikh pilgrims, allowing them to travel to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak Dev spent the last 18 years of his life.
Raising the issue of Kashmir, Khan said he had suggested to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during their first meeting that it should be resolved.
"What we are witnessing in Kashmir today, it is not a territorial issue anymore. It has escalated to a humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately things have gotten even worse for the people of Kashmir who are treated like animals, deprived of their basic human rights and besieged by a presence of 9 lakh soldiers," Khan said.
On August 5, India revoked the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two union territories- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, drawing a sharp reaction from Pakistan.
Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India and expelled the Indian High Commissioner after New Delhi abrogated provisions of Article 370.
Islamabad has been trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue but India has asserted that the abrogation of Article 370 was its "internal matter".
India has always maintained that Jammu and Kashmir is its integral part and ruled out any third party mediation, including either from the UN or the US, saying it is a bilateral issue with Pakistan.
Prime minister Khan said the sub-continent will only progress when the issue of Kashmir is resolved.
"Resolution of Kashmir issue will lead to greater prosperity and mutual development of India and Pakistan. Kashmir issue has resulted 70 years of hatred between the two countries. India must ensure justice to people of Kashmir. Hope one day our relationship will improve," he said.
Prime minister Khan also said a leader will always bring people together and will not divide them.
"A leader does not spread hatred and seek votes on the basis religion," he said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Modi flagged off the first batch of over 500 pilgrims, saying it will be easy to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara after the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
He also thanked Khan and said the opening of the historic corridor had brought immense happiness.
"I also thank Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan for understanding India's wishes and turning Kartarpur into reality," Modi said.
Foreign Minister Qureshi in his speech noted that while Modi thanked Khan for opening the corridor, will the Indian prime minister also give his Pakistani counterpart the chance to thank him.
"You can do so by lifting the curfew in Kashmir, ending the use of pellet guns, ending the violations of human rights [and] by ending the communication blackout," he said.
Qureshi said just as the doors of Kartarpur have opened, the doors of Srinagar's Jamia Masjid should also be opened so that the Kashmiris can offer Friday prayers.
The inauguration of the corridor comes in the midst of frayed ties between India and Pakistan following the New Delhi's August 5 decision.
Notwithstanding a chill in bilateral ties over Kashmir, India and Pakistan after tough negotiations signed an agreement last month, paving the way for the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor on November 9.
The agreement will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims daily to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.