(Written by Kamalpreet Kaur)
“The relationship between India and Pakistan has been up and down. I believe, even in the toughest of times recently, there has been no stoppage towards building of Kartarpur and building on religious tourism”. This was stated by Chairman of the Pakistan Tourism Board, Sayed Zulfiqar during a meeting with the Sikh community representatives at The Rembrandt Hotel in London on Monday.
The meeting, organised by the Central Gurdwara (Khalsa Jatha) London supported by renowned businessman Prof Peter Virdee, discussed religious tourism projects in Pakistan following the historic laying of foundation stones for the Kartarpur Corridor on either side of the border in November 2018.
Bukhari, who is also the Special Assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, added: “We really want the Sikh community in the world to contribute. This is a very special year, the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Sahib and as Pakistanis we want to celebrate it in an elaborate fashion. We don’t just want it to be a national event but we want it to be covered globally. I want you to be on board to organise seminars, exhibitions and conferences around it to build up the hype that this occasion deserves.”
To mark the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Bukhari made a series of commitments regarding visas for religious reasons, raising the numbers from 500 to 5,000 in the next six months; from 15 days to 30 days; lifting travel restrictions to visit other parts of Pakistan and the possibility of visas online and visas on arrival.
However, after being pushed on this issue during a question-answer session he said he would ensure the establishment of tourism desks in Pakistani embassies and dedicated staff to facilitate visas for those taking part in Yatras in Pakistan later this year.
Bukhari said, “Pakistan has not been so open to religious tourism in the past as it is today… Now, we are reaching out to the communities worldwide and asking them to come to Pakistan, to visit their places and see what they can do. We will stand shoulder to shoulder and facilitate you in every way.
He added: “A railway station is being built in the name of Baba Guru Nanak. We are building a special tunnel from Guru Nanak Sahib’s dargah to Gurdwara Janam Asthan and underground railway to another gurdwara. We are building that connectivity, so that you don’t face problems when you come for pilgrimage. Free shuttle services will also be provided from all main gurdwaras.”
Several speakers who spoke on the occasion included, Gurpreet Singh Anand, Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK), Preet Kaur Gill MP, Neena Gill MEP, Lord Suri, Sukhjeevan Singh, the spokesperson for the Sikh Council UK, Dabinderjit Singh, Manvir Singh Bhogal and Justice Anup Singh.
Many said the Pakistan authorities needed to ensure the preservation of the rich religious and national heritage of the Sikhs rather than allow renovation by some that have little or no appreciation of preservation.
A Pakistani journalist donated land for the Pakistani authorities to build accommodation near Kartarpur. This was overshadowed by Peter Virdee making a huge financial commitment by announcing the setting up of a trust under the name of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He said the Peter Virdee Foundation and other business people he had discussed the project with were prepared to inject £500 million. He said money was not an issue for the Sikh community as they were prepared to lay down their lives for their gurdwaras.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office shared the video of SFUK chair Bhai Amrik Singh’s speech on his Facebook page, commenting that promotion of religious tourism in Pakistan was one of the cornerstones of PM Khan’s tourism policy.