ISLAMABAD: The first batch of Hindu pilgrims currently visiting the country met National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Monday and lauded the maintenance and upkeep of religious sites belonging to Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan.
Talking to a delegation of Hindu yatris (pilgrims) belonging to different countries at the Parliament House, Mr Qaiser said that religious minorities are a critical part of the Pakistani community and their contribution to the progress and prosperity of the country is praiseworthy.
Parliament and the government were fully cognisant of their responsibilities and had safeguarded the rights and liberties enjoyed by all religious minorities guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan and the guiding principles of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Qaiser says minorities vital part of Pakistani nation
The visiting delegation, headed by Kundan Bai Ji, was informed by the NA speaker that Islam strongly underscores the protection of all fundamental rights of minorities.
“It was our religious obligation to protect the rights of our minorities,” he said.
Mr Qaiser also highlighted the measures taken by the present government to ensure that religious minorities’ rights granted in the Constitution are respected.
The visit is part of the recent initiative taken by the government to promote religious tourism and portray a soft image of the country at the international level.
The programme is supported by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), which is sponsoring the boarding and lodging arrangements at various religious sites.
The Punjab government has launched a similar programme in collaboration with the ETPB to facilitate Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur.
Addressing the pilgrims, the National Assembly speaker referred to the usurpation of the religious and constitutional rights of Kashmiris and other religious minorities by the Indian government.
“The Kashmiris were suffering under the oppression and tyranny of the Indian army and it is a test of conscience for the whole world,” Mr Qaiser said, adding that Muslims in the occupied territory had been forbidden even to practice their religious obligations.
The speaker told the pilgrims that there was a need for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute according to the aspirations of the Kashmiris and the resolutions of the United Nations. It was incumbent upon the international community to take notice of the plight of Kashmiris, he said.
The speaker said that Pakistan had immense tourism potential and offered rich cultural and religious heritage.
The government had taken an initiative to promote and facilitate religious tourism in Pakistan, he said and hoped that the initiative would create interfaith harmony and promote a true and peaceful and progressive face of the country.
On the occasion, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA Dr Ramesh Vankwani highlighted various reforms initiated in the country to benefit Hindus and other non-Muslim communities.
Ms Bai, the delegation head, praised the hospitality and warmth shown by the people of Pakistan. She gifted a digital Holy Quran to the National Assembly speaker. Yatris from Spain and the United States also exchanged gifts. She said that it was encouraging that the government had preserved their religious places well.
The delegation then proceeded to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism founder Baba Guru Nanak.
Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2022