Hundreds of Indian Sikhs make historic pilgrimage to Pakistan

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Indian Sikh pilgrims visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Nov. 9, 2019. (Reuters)
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Sikh pilgrims gather to wait the site inauguration in front of the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, ahead of the ceremony led by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Kartarpur, near the Indian border, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
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Sikh pilgrims shout slogans as they arrive at the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, ahead of the ceremony led by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan in Kartarpur, near the Indian border, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
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A visa-free corridor allows Indian Sikhs to visit one of their religion’s holiest sites across the border in Pakistan. (AFP)
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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) claps after inaugurating the ceremony at the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, near the Indian border, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Hundreds of Indian Sikhs make historic pilgrimage to Pakistan

  • When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border, while most of the region's Sikhs remained on the other side
  • PM Imran Khan said a day would come "when our relations with India will improve"

KARTARPUR, Pakistan: Hundreds of Indian Sikhs made a historic pilgrimage to Pakistan on Saturday, crossing through a white gate to reach one of their religion's holiest sites, after a landmark deal between the two countries separated by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.
Cheering Sikhs walked joyfully along the road from Dera Baba Nanak in India towards the new immigration hall that would allow them to pass through a secure land corridor into Pakistan, in a rare example of cooperation between the nuclear-armed countries divided by decades of enmity.
Some fathers ran, carrying their children on their shoulders.




Sikh pilgrims gather to wait the site inauguration in front of the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib near the Indian border, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)


Buses were waiting on the Pakistani side to carry them along the corridor to the shrine to Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak, which lies in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan where he is believed to have died.
"Generally people say that God is everywhere. But this walk feels like I'm going to directly seek blessings from Guru Nanak," Surjit Singh Bajwa told AFP as he walked towards the corridor, crying as he spoke.
At 78, he is older than India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars already and nearly ignited a fourth earlier this year.
For up to 30 million Sikhs around the world, the white-domed shrine is one of their holiest sites.
However for Indian Sikhs, it has remained tantalisingly close - so close they could stand at the border and gaze at its four cupolas - but out-of-reach for decades.
When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India at the end of British rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border, while most of the region's Sikhs remained on the other side.
Since then, the perennial state of enmity between India and Pakistan has been a constant barrier to those wanting to visit the temple, known in Sikhism as a gurdwara.
Pilgrims on both sides of the border hoped the corridor might herald a thaw in South Asian tensions.
"When it comes to government-to-government relations, it is all hate and when it comes to people-to-people ties, it's all love," one of the Sikh pilgrims, who did not give his name, told Pakistani state TV as he crossed.
Among the first pilgrims was former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Pakistani state media that it was a "big moment".
The opening even inspired a singular message of gratitude from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for "respecting the sentiments of India".
For his part, Khan said a day would come "when our relations with India will improve".
"I am hopeful that this the beginning," he told the pilgrims at the shrine.
For years India had been asking Pakistan to grant Sikhs access to the shrine.
Many believe it has happened now because of the friendship between Khan, a World Cup winning cricketer-turned politician, and India's Navjot Singh Sidhu - another cricketer-turned-politician.
"When Sidhu asked me to open the border, I kept it in my mind," Khan told devotees Saturday.
He compared the situation to Muslims being able to see holy sites in Madinah, but never visit.




Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) claps after inaugurating the ceremony at the Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, near the Indian border, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)


The opening comes just days ahead of the Guru Nanak's 550th birthday on November 12 - an anniversary of huge significance for the global Sikh community, and which may also have played a role in the timing.
Sikhs from around the world have been arriving in Pakistan ahead of the celebrations for days already.
An estimated 7,000 were at the shrine to hear Khan's speech, though it was not clear how many had come via the corridor and how many had arrived from elsewhere. Indian officials said just 700 were expected to cross through the corridor Saturday.
Many were emotional, some in tears. Others posed for selfies before a giant gold- and silver-coloured kirpan, the dagger which Sikhs must carry with them at all times as an article of their faith.
The Sikh faith began in the 15th century in Punjab, a region including Kartarpur which is split today between India and Pakistan, when Guru Nanak began teaching a faith that preached equality.
There are an estimated 20,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan after millions fled to India following the bloody religious violence ignited by partition, which sparked the largest mass migration in human history and led to the death of at least one million people.
"Life is short," said one of the Indian pilgrims, Davinder Singh Wadah.
"Everyone has to go... so why not enjoy life and make this world a heaven, and I think this initiative is the beginning of it."


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”