Visas for pilgrims

Published April 14, 2022

THE arrival of over 2,000 Sikh pilgrims from India via the Wagah border to participate in the Baisakhi festival underscores Pakistan’s commitment to not let its tense ties with New Delhi affect people’s basic rights to visit places that are important to their religious beliefs. The same, however, cannot be said of the Indian government, which last month denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims hoping to visit the shrine of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer for the Sufi saint’s urs. The decision to not grant visas came as a surprise since the Indian authorities had asked the religious affairs ministry here to complete the arrangements for the departure of pilgrims, who had arrived in Lahore from distant areas of the country. Expressing his dismay, the religious affairs minister, Noorul Haq Qadri, had termed this decision as a violation of the Pakistan-Indian Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines 1974.

Whatever the reasons for India’s last-minute U-turn, it is unfortunate that the people, who share a religious and cultural heritage, have to bear the brunt of political decisions taken by the governments. Over the past few years, diplomatic relations have hit a new low, resulting in a near suspension of people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan. While Pakistan has fulfilled its legal obligations of granting visas to pilgrims, as demonstrated by the yearly arrival of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs in the country via Kartarpur and Wagah to visit their holy sites, Pakistani citizens have been repeatedly denied this right by the Indian government. Both Pakistan and India are home to millions of divided families. They also share a religious and social heritage that is centuries old; India is home to Sufi shrines and iconic Muslim mosques, while Pakistan boasts some of the most revered Hindu and Sikh religious sites. Both neighbours, especially India, should work towards normalising ties and awarding visas to tourists visiting holy sites. Such a move would also help soften relations between the two neighbours in other areas.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2022

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