New Delhi: Tensions between India and Pakistan notwithstanding, the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi has issued visas to as many as 3,316 Sikh pilgrims to attend the birthday celebrations of the first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev in Pakistan.
Manzoor Ali Memon, counsellor (press) in the high commission, said this was done in line with Pakistan’s efforts to encourage people-to-people contacts and promote religious tourism.
The number of visas issued to pilgrims this time is more than the numbers prescribed under the 1974 bilateral protocol, he added.
Guru Nanak Dev was born on 15 April 1469 at ‘Rai Bhoi Ki Talva’, present day Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Every year a large number of Sikh pilgrims travel to Pakistan to visit different Sikh shrines.
This year, Pakistan issuing visas for Sikh pilgrims comes amid a chill in ties.
India-Pakistan ties have been in free fall since July when Islamabad described Burhan Wani, a terrorist belonging to the Hizbul Mujahideen group who was shot dead by Indian security forces, as a “martyr” and a “Kashmiri leader”.
Pakistan has been vociferously highlighting what it calls human rights violations in Kashmir, riling India. Some 86 people have been killed and many injured in the unrest that followed Wani’s killing.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded an international probe into the deaths in Kashmir in his address to the UN General Assembly on 21 September, which did not help matters.
Tensions over the unrest in Kashmir were heightened by the terrorist attack in Uri on 18 September that left 18 Indian Army soldiers dead. And on 29 September, India revealed that it had conducted surprise military operations targeting terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Since then, there have been almost daily reports of a 2003 ceasefire along the India-Pakistan border being breached by Pakistan with India retaliating. Both sides have suffered civilian and paramilitary casualties.