Pakistan issues over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims

New Delhi,   Pakistan has issued over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims ahead of the 549th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak, the Pakistan High Commission here said on Tuesday.

“The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi has issued over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims from India to participate in the 549th birthday anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji in Pakistan from November 21 to 30, 2018,” the high commission said in a statement.

“Under the framework of the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines of 1974, a large number of Sikh yatrees (pilgrims) from India visit Pakistan to observe various religious festivals/occasions every year,” it stated.

“The over 3,800 visas issued by the Pakistan High Commission are in addition to the visas issued to Sikh pilgrims participating in the event from other countries.”

According to the statement, this is by far the largest number of visas issued in recent years to Sikh pilgrims for Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary celebrations, well beyond the maximum number of 3,000, mutually agreed between the two countries for this event.

The move comes after a grenade attack on a prayer meeting of the Nirankari sect in Amritsar on Sunday that left three people dead and 20 others injured.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Monday said the grenade attack carried “Pakistan’s signature”, with initial investigations indicating that the grenade used was similar to the ones being manufactured by the Pakistani Army Ordinance factory.

The Chief Minister, who arrived at the grenade attack spot at the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan in Adliwal village of Rajasansi area of Amritsar district on Monday, said that a similar HG-84 grenade had been recovered from a terror module busted by the Punjab Police last month.

“This indicates a high probability of the involvement of inimical forces from across the border,” he said.

“Prima facie, this appears to be an act of terror by separatist forces, organised with the involvement of ISI-backed Khalistani or Kashmiri terrorist groups. My government has taken serious note of the incident and is aggressively pursuing all angles of investigation,” Amarinder told the media here.

In Tuesday’s high commission statement, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood said the issuance of over 3,800 visas to Sikh pilgrims was a “special gesture” by the Pakistan government in view of the 550th anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak commencing in earnest from this year.

“We extend profound felicitations to our brothers and sisters celebrating this auspicious occasion and wish all yatrees a spiritually fulfilling yatra”, the Pakistan High Commissioner said.

“The issuance of pilgrimage visas to Sikh pilgrims is in line with the government of Pakistan’s efforts for promoting visits to religious shrines and people-to-people interactions,” the statement said.

“This also reflects the commitment of the Government of Pakistan to faithfully implement the bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines,” it stated.

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