The government has allowed a special delegation of around 500 Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit Nankana Sahib to inaugurate the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, the Foreign Office said on Tuesday.
A special jatha (caravan) of around 500 Indian Sikh pilgrims crossed over to Pakistan through the Wagah border on Tuesday morning. According to the FO, the pilgrims will commence the celebrations in connection with Baba Guru Nanak's 550th birth anniversary from his birthplace in Nankana Sahib on Thursday, August 1.
According to official sources, a total of 476 pilgrims reached Nankana Sahib today. The remaining 24 pilgrims will not be visiting, the sources said.
The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had issued visas to the Sikh pilgrims who are part of the jatha on July 26. These visas were granted "over and above" the thousands of visas that Pakistan issues every year under the framework of the Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, 1974, the FO said.
"Pakistan feels honoured that celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak by Indian Sikhs are being started from Nankana Sahib, Pakistan," read the press release.
It recalled that the Pakistani government is taking a number of initiatives, including the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, in order to make the upcoming birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak memorable and historic.
"Government of Pakistan also believes in the policy of promoting visits to religious shrines and people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and India," the statement added.
The delegation's visit comes a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan said that steps have been taken to facilitate the Sikh community through the Kartarpur Corridor, which will be opened in November.
Earlier in July, Pakistani officials had claimed making headway on “80 per cent and beyond” issues in the second round of talks with India on the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor that was held after much delay earlier in July.
Responding to a question about the number of pilgrims to be allowed to cross over to Pakistan to visit Kartarpur Sahib, FO spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal had then said: “We’ll go up to the maximum possible capacity and physical arrangements [to accommodate the pilgrims] whether these are enough for 2,000, 5,000 or 8,000 [pilgrims]. Our intentions are clear, we’re willing and it’s Pakistan prime minister’s initiative.”
A statement earlier issued by the FO had said that 70 per cent of the construction work on the Pakistani side of the Kartarpur Corridor had been completed.
Islamabad has formed a high-level committee comprising Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar and federal ministers Sheikh Rashid and Noorul Haq Qadri to monitor the arrangements for the opening of the corridor and the birth anniversary celebrations.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that ISPR had issued an official statement on the number of Indian Sikh pilgrims who had arrived to Pakistan. The error is regretted.