Religious tourism still on agenda as India allows Pak pilgrims to visit Punjab


    NEW DELHI: Despite the bitterness in ties, which saw the government recently calling off a proposed meeting between the foreign ministers, India seeks to keep religious tourism going with Pakistan. The government on Thursday issued visas to 170 Pakistan pilgrims, allowing them to visit Punjab later this month.

    India had in 2015 agreed to promote religious tourism as one of the ways of improving relations with Pakistan.

    Pakistani pilgrims will visit Sirhind in Punjab for the 3-day Rouza Sharif urs which is held annually at the tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Farooqi.

    India has in fact also released Pakistan prisoners after it cancelled the meeting between foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistan counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Despite the nasty exchanges which followed the cancellation, the two countries seem keen on addressing humanitarian issues and focusing on religious tourism.

    One of the issues which Swaraj and Qureshi were expected to address in their aborted meeting on the sidelines of UNGA was the opening of the Kartarpur corridor. The Sikhs in India’s Punjab are keen that Pakistan allow them to visit Darbar Sahib in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur.

    While the Imran Khan government had said that it was considering opening the corridor, Indian officials say this was never communicated officially by Islamabad to any Indian authority.

    “They know our position on the issue. They’ve to first inform us if they are genuinely interested in facilitating Darbar Sahib visit,” said a source here.

    Pakistan sees opening of the Kartarpur border as a major concession to India and is unlikely to open the gate for Sikh pilgrims in the present circumstances when there is practically no engagement between the countries.

    India is currently also considering visa applications from the Pakistan National hockey team for the World Cup starting November 28 in Bhubaneswar. Official sources said visas will most likely be given keeping in mind the importance of the event. The Pakistan team had last played in India in 2014.

    Participation in sporting events has been another area of contention between the two countries.

    Islamabad has on several occasions accused India of delaying, if not denying altogether, visas to Pakistani athletes. It could not participate in the junior hockey world cup in 2016 over similar issues. On that occasion though, the international hockey federation had made it clear that the Pakistani team had applied for visas well after the official deadline.


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