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Indian Ministers To Attend New Border-Crossing Ceremony In Pakistan


FILE:Indian Border Security Force personnel (brown) and Pakistani rangers (black) take part in the daily beating of the retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan Wagah border crossing

In a rare sign of cooperation between Pakistan and India, two Indian ministers were set to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Pakistani border crossing for Sikh pilgrims later this week.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on November 24 he had invited his Indian counterpart to attend the ceremony for the Kartarpur crossing on November 28.

In a letter sent to Pakistan’s Foreign Office on November 25, Indian Prime Minister Sushma Swaraj declined the invitation due to "prior commitments."

But she said that the Indian minister for food-processing industries and the minister of state for housing and urban affairs will attend the event.

India and Pakistan have a history of bitter relations since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

They have fought three wars, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region Kashmir, where the two sides still regularly exchange fire.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to lay the foundation stone on November 28 for construction to begin on the Kartarpura crossing, which aims at making it quicker and easier for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit a shrine to Guru Nanak, the 15th-century founder of Sikhism.

On November 22, New Delhi also approved the construction of a new border entry point and road on the Indian side of the border to connect the two countries' provinces called Punjab.

Pakistani Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Hussain called the Indian decision a "victory of peace lobby in both countries."

"It's a step towards right direction and we hope such steps will encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border," Hussain tweeted.

The border corridor indicates a thaw in relations between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

In September, a rare meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries was scheduled on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

But India called off the meeting one day after it was announced, following the killing of an Indian border guard in the disputed region of Kashmir.

India has long blamed Pakistan for arming rebel groups in Kashmir and for helping to orchestrate the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Islamabad denies the accusations.

Pakistan used to be home to a large Sikh community, but most of its members went to India during the 1947 partition, with only a few thousand remaining in Pakistan.

Thousands of Sikhs visit Guru Nanak’s shrine in Pakistan every year.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Dawn

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