The bilateral ties with Pakistan still remain in deep freeze. But still, India is looking to build on the goodwill created by religious tourism. India planned to expand the agreed list of shrines pilgrims from both sides are now allowed to visit. India proposed about the same to Pakistan in a note verbale Friday. It mentioned that pilgrims will also be now allowed to travel by air.
On Friday, The government said it had a positive approach to the issue. It was willing to engage Islamabad. India believes in an early implementation of the proposal. This will help both Sikhs and Hindus, interested to visit pilgrimage in Pakistan.
On Friday the foreign ministry said India will begin supplying wheat to Afghanistan.
“As you are aware, under the 1974 Protocol between India and Pakistan, visits to religious shrines are being facilitated regularly. There is an interest on both sides to expand the agreed list of shrines and mode of travel. It naturally needs to be discussed under the Protocol,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
“You are also aware that currently restrictions are in place on movement and gatherings in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the situation normalises, we expect that this time can be utilised to hold discussions under the bilateral protocol,” he added.
India hopes to facilitate the “early exchange of visits to all shrines of interest to pilgrims”, Bagchi remarked.
“Let me underline that India has a positive approach on this matter and is willing to engage the Pakistani side,” he added.
The official said, India wants to discuss it under the bilateral Protocol. “It is our hope to facilitate early exchange of visits to all shrines of interest to pilgrims,” he said.
The Kartarpur Corridor reopened last year. Since then, both countries have been looking to facilitate visits by pilgrims. Last month, Pakistan issued visas to 112 Indian pilgrims. Pakistan allowed them to visit a Hindu temple in Pakistan Punjab.
Religious tourism and humanitarian issues have kept diplomats on both sides occupied. It is now occupied even in the absence of any substantive bilateral engagement. Visits by pilgrims under the 1974 Protocol have continued. Even though there are the occasional disruptions. Like in 2018, when India denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims. This was due to strife over the Kulbhushan Jadhav case. A mechanism to facilitate religious tourism was among the 5 agreements. And PM Narendra Modi had achieved that in 2015 along with his then counterpart Nawaz Sharif. This was then done in a bilateral meeting in Russia.
India is currently also working with Pakistan to supply wheat to Afghanistan. The wheat will be transported through the Attari-Wagah land route. On Friday, the government said it was hoping to begin the delivery soon. And they said that it remained committed to providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
“The process to procure wheat and to arrange its transportation is currently underway. Naturally, this takes some time. We will share the updates as soon as we have them. We hope to be able to do it shortly,” said Bagchi.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani is the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council. He is also a lawmaker from Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. He suggested the two proposed chartered flights could carry about 170 Pakistani pilgrims. From which, most of them are Muslims. The flights to India will help them to visit Ajmer Sharif, Nizamuddin dargah, and other shrines.
He also suggested that Air India flights could get used to carry Indian pilgrims to Pakistan. This could be done to help pilgrims visit shrines. The shrines like the samadhi of Parihans Maharaj at Teri village in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Also the Hinglaj Mata mandir in Balochistan. These flights would be included in Pakistan’s “faith tourism” initiative.