India-Pakistan pilgrim politics should stop: Dawn

Pakistani Hindu pilgrims hold ashes of their mother and mother in-law in Amritsar on Feb 15, 2018.
Pakistani Hindu pilgrims hold ashes of their mother and mother in-law in Amritsar on Feb 15, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial, the paper says both New Delhi and Islamabad should make religious pilgrimage easier for people across the border

ISLAMABAD (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It is a fact that both Pakistan and India share a religious heritage that is now commonly cherished by those on the 'other' side of the divide.

Pakistan has many sites sacred to both Sikhs and Hindus, including gurdwaras and mandirs, while India hosts iconic dargahs, masjids and tombs of Sufi saints.

However, while freedom of travel is severely restricted for citizens of Pakistan in India and vice versa, the limited number of pilgrims and religious tourists allowed to travel between the two countries are also facing great pressure as the bilateral relationship remains frozen in a state of mutual mistrust.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Office denied Indian claims that Pakistan was responsible for urging Sikh pilgrims visiting this country for the Baisakhi festival to protest in favour of Khalistan.

A senior Pakistani diplomat in New Delhi had earlier been summoned by the Indian government over the issue.

New Delhi had also claimed that local authorities had denied Indian diplomats access to Sikh pilgrims visiting Pakistan.

Earlier, Pakistani pilgrims wishing to participate in the urs of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty in Ajmer, and Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi, could not make the trip as India had not issued them visas.

At least where religious visits are concerned, the two sides should not politicise these centuries-old pilgrimages that date back to a time before nationalism and hard borders existed.

Such visits should also be allowed to continue unhindered in order to promote people-to-people contacts.

Indeed, in the currently poisoned atmosphere that prevails in Pakistan-India ties, where each side is viewing the other with suspicion, the free exchange of visitors may be wishful thinking.

However, what is possible is for both states to honour the existing protocols governing religious visits.

Instead of blowing up incidents and allowing them to transform into diplomatic spats, visits to sacred sites on both sides of the border must be encouraged and facilitated by the two establishments.

In an ideal world, visits to shrines, historical sites and between divided families could bridge the gulf that exists in the subcontinent and perhaps pave the way to solutions to thorny political problems.

But with hawkish lobbies on both sides - especially the Sangh Parivar in India - beating the war drums and spreading hateful rhetoric, such exchanges may be difficult.

Both countries must strive to keep the channels for pilgrims wishing to visit the other side open and help break down the barriers standing in the way of such trips.

Dawn is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.