Religious tourism: Pakistan issues visas to 2,200 Indian pilgrims

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By Muhammad Luqman

Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi has issued visas to 2,200 Sikh pilgrims from India to facilitate their participation in the annual Baisakhi celebrations being held from April 12 to 21.

Analysts see the issuance of visas by Pakistan as signs of easing of tension between the two countries.

Under a framework of Indo-Pak protocol on visits to religious shrines, a large number of Sikh pilgrims from India visit Pakistan every year. Similarly, Pakistani pilgrims also visit Muslim shrines in India.

Last week, Pakistan announced that it will release 360 Indian prisoners, mostly fishermen, this month in four phases, as a “goodwill gesture. Out of the 360, 100 fishermen returned to India on Monday.

“The Pakistan High Commission has issued 2200 visas to Sikh pilgrims from India to participate in the annual Baisakhi celebrations,” the High Commission in Indian capital, New Delhi said in a statement.

It said the 2,200 visas were in addition to those granted to Sikh pilgrims participating in the event from other countries.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood said the gesture by Pakistan to issue these visas was reflective of the reverence attached to Baisakhi, both in its religious and cultural dimensions.

Besides marking the start of the new Sikh year, Baisakhi is the time to harvest the rabi crops especially wheat .

“We extend our profound greetings and felicitations to all our brothers and sisters celebrating this auspicious occasion and wish the visiting pilgrims a spiritually fulfilling journey,” Sohail Mahmood  said.

During their visit to Pakistan, the pilgrims would go to Roori Sahib (Eimanabad), Panja Sahib (Hassan Abdal), Gurdwara Janam Asthan (Nankana Sahib), Dera Sahib (Lahore) and Kartarpur Sahib (Narowal).

The issuance of the visas is in line with Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate visits to religious shrines and strengthen people-to-people exchanges, the High Commission said.

“Pakistan remains committed to preserving sacred religious places and extending all possible facilitation for the visiting pilgrims of all faiths,” it said.

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