Islamabad had invited Sushma, Punjab CM Amarinder and state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for the ground-breaking ceremony for Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan. Swaraj said that due to prior commitments, including election campaign , she would not be able to attend the event

India will send ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Puri to Kartarpur

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: India will send two Union ministers, Harsimrat Kaur and Hardeep Puri, to attend the ground-breaking ceremony for Kartarpur corridor in Pakistan even though external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday declined the invite by Pakistan citing prior commitments.

Islamabad had invited Swaraj, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and state minister Navjot Singh Sidhu for the ceremony on November 28, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced on Twitter on Saturday.

Swaraj though replied saying that due to prior commitments, including election campaign in Telangana, she would not be able to travel to Kartarpur Sahib. However, she said, being mindful of the sentiments of India's Sikh citizens and the importance of facilitating their smooth and easy access to the holy place, India will send Union ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal (minister for food processing industries) and Hardeep Puri (MoS, housing and urban affairs) to Kartarpur. She also expressed hope that Pakistan will expedite construction of the corridor.

The last time Swaraj travelled to Pakistan – in December 2015 – India and Pakistan ended up resuming the bilateral dialogue process.

Development of the corridor was said to be on top of the agenda for the Swaraj-Qureshi meeting on the side lines of UNGA as proposed by Khan in September this year. The meeting was cancelled by India after the killing of SPOs in J&K.

Pakistan said in a statement that its Kartarpur spirit can be a step forward in the right direction from conflict to cooperation, animosity to peace and enmity to friendship.

“On behalf of Pakistan I have extended an invitation to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj @SushmaSwaraj ,Capt Amarinder Singh @capt_amarinder & Navjot Singh Sidhu @sherryontopp to attend the groundbreaking ceremony at #Kartarpura on 28 Nov, 2018. #PakistanKartarpuraSpirit,” tweeted Qureshi.

“We will only comment once we have received a formal invitation,” said Punjab chief minister’s media adviser Raveen Thukral, refusing to speculate if the CM would visit Pakistan for the ground-breaking ceremony.

Sidhu, who had in August created a huge controversy by hugging Pak army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the oath-taking ceremony of Imran Khan, said he would attend the event if he gets permission from the Centre. “I have got permission from Captain Amarinder Singh to visit Pakistan for the November 28 event. I have applied for the Centre’s permission,” Sidhu told TOI on phone from Madhya Pradesh.

In India, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) said it will build the recently announced corridor up to the international border in Punjab. The highways ministry on Saturday said it will be a four-lane highway with service roads and other facilities for pilgrims intending to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.

In a release, the road transport ministry said Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu will lay the foundation stone for the construction of Dera Baba Nanak-Kartarpur Sahib road corridor on Monday. Highways minister Nitin Gadkari and Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh will also attend the ceremony at village Mann in Gurdaspur district.

The Indian side of Corridor starts from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district and extends up to the international border. “This corridor will be a historical landmark between India and Pakistan and will also boost tourism as more pilgrims would visit the holy shrine throughout the year between two countries,” the ministry said.

Guru Nanak Dev had assembled the Sikh community at Kartarpur and lived there for 18 years till 1539. The Gurudwara Darbar Sahib is built where Guru Nanak took his last breath.

To mark 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in 2019, the government had on Thursday announced to build the Kartarpur Corridor as an integrated development project. The corridor will let Sikh pilgrims visit the iconic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur on the banks of river Ravi in Pakistan.