In a rare and landmark initiative, the Kartarpur corridor facilitating Indian pilgrims to visit one of Sikhism's holiest shrines in the Pakistani town of Narowal was thrown open by Prime Minister Imran Khan amid fanfare and presence of several thousands Sikhs.
The corridor links Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur in India to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Sikh faith's founder Guru Nanak.
The inauguration of the corridor comes in the midst of frayed ties between India and Pakistan following New Delhi's decision in August to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories.
It was inaugurated as part of the celebration to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.
Khan inaugurated the corridor by removing a curtain that was lifted by hot air balloons in the presence of thousands of Sikhs from across the world including India. A huge 'kirpan' (dagger) was displayed at the inauguration site.
"I am happy we could do this for you," he said.
A high-level Indian delegation comprising former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal, Punjab MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu and Union Ministers Harshimrat Singh Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri was present here on the occasion.
"Believe me, I had no idea of the importance this place holds; I found out a year ago," Khan said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flagged off the first batch of over 500 pilgrims in Gurdaspur, saying it will be easy to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara after the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Asserting that he is fortunate to be able to dedicate the Kartarpur corridor to the country, Modi said the opening of the corridor and the integrated check post will bring double happiness to the people.
He also thanked Khan, saying the opening has brought immense happiness.
"I thank Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi. He understood India's feelings on the Kartarpur corridor issue, gave respect (to it) and, worked keeping in view those feelings," Modi said.
While former prime minister Singh called the corridor's opening a "big moment", Parkash described it as the happiest day in his life.
During his brief address, Khan raked up the Kashmir issue and said it has resulted 70 years of hatred between India and Pakistan.
"The resolution of the Kashmir issue will lead to greater prosperity and mutual development of India and Pakistan," Khan said.
"India must ensure justice to people of Kashmir," he said, referring to the abrogation of the Article 370 and communication blackout in the Valley.
He hoped that one day the relationship between the two neighbours will improve.
Citing the examples of Prophet Muhammad, Nelson Mandela and Sufi saints, Khan said a true leader always brings people together.
"I am always so happy to see the Sikh community who have come here. God lives in the hearts of all of us. All the messengers who have come and gone only ever brought two messages, that of peace and justice," he said.
Earlier, Khan visited different units of Gurdawara Darbar Sahib.
Prime Minister Khan welcomed the first batch of the Indian Sikh pilgrims who entered Pakistan through the corridor which links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Punjab's Gurdaspur.
Khan shook hand with Manmohan and exchanged pleasantries.
Speaking on the occasion, Sidhu told Khan, "You have won hearts."
In his address, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the doors of Kartarpur have been opened for Sikh pilgrims.
"If the Berlin Wall can be demolished, if the Kartarpur Corridor can be opened, then the temporary boundary of the Line of Control can also be ended," Qureshi said, raking up the Kashmir issue during his address on the occasion.
The first 'jatha' also included Akal Takht Jathedar Harpreet Singh and Sukhbir Singh Badal.
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee members and all the 117 MLAs and MPs from Punjab including ministers are also part of the first 'jatha'.
Prime Minister Khan said the historic opening of the Kartarpur corridor is a testimony to Pakistan's commitment to regional peace.
"We believe that the road to prosperity of region and bright future of our coming generation lies in peace," Khan said in his message on the occasion.
"Today we are not only opening the border, but also our hearts for the Sikh community," he said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)