Pak Army chief’s handshake at Kartarpur corridor event triggers row

Pakistan on Wednesday justified its army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa greeting pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla on the sidelines of the Kartarpur corridor groundbreaking ceremony after a video emerged of the two men shaking hands.

Chawla, known to be one of the main propagators of the Sikh movement that seeks a separate homeland for the community, has earlier stopped Indian diplomats from visiting a gurudwara in Lahore. He is believed to have ties to terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who is wanted in India.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan army said Bajwa “met all guests at the venue irrespective of identity”.

On Twitter, the military’s media wing spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, said: “Indian media taking a myopic view is selectively showing Mr Gopal Chawla meeting COAS. Army Chief met all guests at the venue irrespective of identity. A peace initiative should not be subjected to propaganda.”

Chawla is a senior leader of the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee (PSGPC), and he was invited to all events involving the Sikh community, a Pakistani official told news agency Press Trust of India.

The groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan’s Punjab province was attended by federal and provincial ministers and foreign dignitaries.

In Canada, the pro-Khalistan group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), has announced that it plans to hold a convention to espouse the secessionist 2020 Referendum campaign, announced in London in August this year, at Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan if the proposed corridor for Sikh pilgrims between India and Pakistan is functional by then.

While the original plan was to hold a major event at Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun told Hindustan Times that the opening of the corridor will allow the group access to a much larger number of pilgrims from India at Kartarpur Sahib than would be possible at the more distant Nankana Sahib.

“Because now they have given access, people will come to Kartarpur Sahib. They will not be allowed to visit Nankana Sahib so we will have to do the convention at Kartarpur Sahib,” Pannun said. In case the corridor is not open, SFJ will revert to the original plan of holding the convention at Nanakana Sahib.

The convention is being timed to coincide with the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak.

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Indian officials refused to formally comment on this latest provocative move by SFJ, but said this was part of a game being played by Pakistan and rued that a religious occasion of such significance was being “manipulated” for such a purpose.

SFJ’s office in Lahore will “coordinate” registration of “voters” for the non-binding referendum on creating a separate nation of Khalistan. SFJ also plans to sponsor and host 10,000 Sikhs from Punjab at the convention to “be educated and informed about Sikhs’ right to self-determination under the UN Charter and Conventions” and to serve as “ambassadors” for the separatist referendum.

Pannun said in a statement, “Kartarpur Sahib Convention is pivotal to referendum campaign as this will be the first ever global gathering of the Sikh separatists from foreign countries with the Sikh people from Punjab

(With inputs from Anirudh Bhattacharyya)

First Published: Nov 28, 2018 23:36 IST

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