ISLAMABAD: Islamabad and New Delhi may fully restore the accord pertaining to religious tourism after the change of government in Pakistan renewed hopes for rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The worsening ties between the two countries have also affected people-to-people contacts particularly bilateral exchanges regarding religious tourism since last December after India accused Pakistan of harassing Kulbhushan Jadhav’s wife and mother, who visited Islamabad to meet the convicted Indian spy.
Under the bilateral agreement of 1974, both countries allow each other’s nationals to visit religious site every year to promote people-to-people contact and tourism. However, unfortunately the accord has been implemented seldom since last December as a number of aspiring Pakistani pilgrims could not travel across the border to participate in events related to annual Urs of Sufi saints due to tensions.
Now, the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has invited applications from people, who are interested in attending the annual Urs of Ajmer Sharif, scheduled to be held in India from March 17 to 18 next year.
Pakistani officials are hopeful that unlike the past, the Indian government would not refuse visas to Pakistani pilgrims under the current positive environment.
The PTI government has already announced that it was planning to open the Kartarpur crossing to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit the place, where their spiritual leader breathed his last on the Pakistani side of the border.
The government is contemplating to establish a specific corridor to allow Sikh pilgrims to visit the site without visa. The announcement came from former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was given this news by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
While talking to The Express Tribune, an official in the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony privy to the development said that this year Pakistani pilgrims had only once traveled India to attend Urs of Hazrat Amir Khusro, held from June 28 to July 5.
“Over 160 Pakistani pilgrims after waiting for so long got hold of their stamped passport from India High Commission with a delay and they left for India to attend Urs few days after it was commenced,” he said.
The official was of the view that two to three more annual Urs are going to be held in India by the end of this year and for that the Ministry of Religious affairs has already either collected or invited applications.
“Hopefully passports of successful applicants intending to attend Urs in November this year will be submitted to the Indian High Commission by next month,” he said.