Avoid Pakistan, government tells pilgrims

Saturday, 31 October 2009, 06:39 Hrs
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New Delhi/Amritsar: The government Tuesday advised Indian pilgrims to avoid visiting Pakistan in view of the deteriorating security situation there. The Haryana government has cancelled a pilgrimage for a Sikh festival next week but the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) said it was awaiting clearance for a large group of devotees.

The home ministry said in a statement that it was "not advisable for Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan in the prevailing situation when frequent terrorist attacks are taking place in Punjab province of Pakistan, where all gurdwaras are situated".

The Haryana government Tuesday cancelled a pilgrimage to Sikh shrines in Pakistan following the travel advisory.

The pilgrimage to Pakistan, Oct 28 to Nov 6 from Sirsa, has been cancelled, keeping in mind the security of the pilgrims in the wake of recent terror attacks in Pakistan's Punjab province, a spokesperson of the Haryana home department said.

The SGPC, the mini-parliament of the Sikh religion headquartered in Punjab's Amritsar city, has applied for permission to the home ministry to allow Sikhs to go to Pakistan next week in connection with Gurpurab, the birth anniversary celebrations of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak Dev that falls Nov 2.

The birthplace of Guru Nanak is Nankana Sahib, near Lahore. SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar told IANS Tuesday that the Pakistan visit was an important religious event.

"We understand that the government issued the travel advisory in view of the bad situation in Pakistan. Anything can happen there. If the government feels that it (Pakistan) is unsafe, it should ban all travel to that country," Makkar said.

"We have applied for permission for our jatha (group) to go there. If the clearance is given, it becomes the responsibility of the Indian government to talk to Pakistan to ensure security of the Sikh pilgrims," he added.

The SGPC jatha for the Nov 2 event could have 1,500-2,000 devotees.

"The (travel) advisory alone does not help. If we (SGPC) don't send pilgrims, and pilgrims decide to go in smaller groups, it will be embarrassing for us," Makkar added.

Earlier this month, over 200 Indians who had gone to Pakistan on pilgrimage had to cut short their visit due to security concerns after the Pakistan Army's GHQ was attacked by terrorists in Rawalpindi.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in the latest wave of militant violence that began with a suicide bombing at the offices of the UN World Food Programme in Islamabad Oct 5.

The most audacious attack was on Oct 10 when 10 terrorists in military uniform laid siege to the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. At least 19 people, including nine raiders, died in the 22-hour standoff.
Source: IANS
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