Lahore, November 16
After the ouster of the Taliban who had imposed restrictions on minorities, a large number of Afghan Sikhs today visited Sikh shrines of Pakistan to celebrate the 533rd birth anniversary of Guru Nanak here. They are a star attraction for Sikh pilgrims.
Earlier, a jatha of 46 Indian pilgrims crossed from the Wagah joint checkpost through the land route to Pakistan. The jatha included four women. As many as 39 crossed over to Pakistan first and the remaining seven followed after the beating retreat ceremony.
However, Mr Alwinderpal Singh Pakhoke, senior vice-president of the SGPC and leader of the jatha, whose passport was to expire in a few days and hence had been urgently sent to the Jalandhar passport office for emergency renewal, was sitting at the Wagah checkpost till 7 p.m. The Pakistan Rangers had reportedly assured him that they would allow him till 7.30 p.m. to enter Pakistan Mr Pakoke then left at 8.15 pm for Pakistan.
It is for the first time in the recent past that the jatha has used the land route to reach Pakistan. Earlier, a good number of Pakistani and Afghan Sikhs had used similar routes to reach India following special permissions to mark the tercentenary celebrations of the birth of the Khalsa Panth in 1999.
The governments of India and Pakistan granted special permission for the token jatha. Significantly, this is the first Sikh jatha to visit Pakistan in the aftermath of the attack on Indian Parliament House by pro-Pakistan militants on December 13 last year.
The jatha was accorded a warm welcome by the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (PSGPC) led by its co-chairperson Sham Singh who was present to receive the Indian jatha at the Pakistan border. A Punjabi banner also fluttered at the Pakistani side bearing the slogan “ji aayan nu”, by the PSGPC for the Indian Sikh jatha.
The pilgrims were garlanded and showered with rose petals on their entry into Pakistan.
Earlier, Prof Kirpal Singh Badungar, president of the SGPC, while giving a send-off to the jatha at Teja Singh Samundari Hall in Amritsar said the maintenance of Sikh shrines in Pakistan was the sole responsibility of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC).
He said according to the Jawaharlal Nehru-Liquat Ali Pact, the SGPC had the right to maintain historical gurdwaras in Pakistan. The SGPC did not give any recognition to the PSGPC as it was formed in violation of pact. He said leaders of the SGPC would take up this matter with Gen Pervez Musharraf President of Pakistan, and other persons concerned during their current visit to Pakistan.
He further said a non-Sikh heading Sikh affairs and management of Sikh gurdwaras was not acceptable to them and regretted that the third chairman of the PSGPC was also a non-Sikh.
Mr Badungar said sending of jathas was also the sole right of the SGPC. It is after a long time that Union Government has not permitted other Sikh organisations, including the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee and Bhai Mardana Kirtan Darbar Yaadgari Committee, to send jathas.
The jatha would visit Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Gurdwara Panja Sahib and Gurdwara Dera Sahib and return on November 23 to Amritsar.