Hundreds of Sikh pilgrims to arrive in Pakistan this month for religious festivals

In this file photo, Indian Sikh pilgrims pose on a train bound for Pakistan at the railway station at Attari, some 35kms from Amritsar, on November 21, 2018, as they prepare to leave for Lahore to mark the 549th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2019
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Hundreds of Sikh pilgrims to arrive in Pakistan this month for religious festivals

  • First batch will visit on Friday to participate in annual ‘Jor Mela’ to mark death anniversary of fifth Guru of Sikhism
  • Second batch will come on June 27 to pay homage to former Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjeet Singh

LAHORE: A batch of Sikh pilgrims from India will cross into Pakistan on Friday to participate in the ‘Jor Mela,’ a festival observed to mark the death anniversary of Guru Arjun Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of Sikhism and the first of the two Gurus martyred in the Sikh faith.
A second group of pilgrims is expected to arrive in Pakistan on June 27 to pay homage to the former Sikh ruler of united Punjab, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, on his death anniversary. The two groups will stay in Pakistan for ten days each, crossing over into the country from the Wagah border between Pakistan and India.
Many Sikhs see Pakistan as the place where their religion began: Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469 in a small village near Lahore.
“Two groups of Sikh pilgrims are visiting Pakistan for 10 days each between June 14 and July 6,” said Ami Hashmi, the spokesman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board which is responsible for the maintenance of properties, including religious buildings and sites, abandoned by people who left for India during the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
“The first batch will arrive on June 14 for Jor Mela while the second will be reaching on June 27 for the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh,” Hashmi added. “ETPB has completed all arrangements for the 500 Sikh pilgrims.”
He said the Interior Ministry of Pakistan had directed the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to issue 10-day visas to the pilgrims.
This March, arch-rivals India and Pakistan agreed to go forward with the Kartarpur Corridor, a new border crossing and route for Sikh pilgrims to visit a holy temple in Pakistan.
The Sikh minority community in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just over the border in Muslim-majority Pakistan. But to get to Kartarpur, travelers must first secure hard-to-get visas, travel to Lahore or some other major Pakistani city and then drive to the village, which is just 4 km (2-1/2 miles) distant from the Indian border. Pakistan has earmarked Rs.1,000 million for the corridor in its budget for fiscal year to June 2020.
In April, a large group of Sikh pilgrims from India performed ritual baths at a famous temple in northwestern Pakistan after arriving in the country to celebrate the harvest festival of Vaisakhi that marks the beginning of the Sikh New Year.
The Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi had announced that it had issued around 2,200 visas to Indian Sikhs wanting to travel to Pakistan to participate in the annual Vaisakhi celebrations from April 12 to 21. Around 3,000 Sikhs in total had arrived for the festival from around the world, ETPB’s Hasmi said, 1,896 of them from India.


Pakistani PM names army chief to new national development council

Updated 18 June 2019
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Pakistani PM names army chief to new national development council

  • New body will formulate policies, approve long-term planning, provide guidelines for regional cooperation
  • The formal inclusion of the army chief in a development policy-making body is an unprecedented move

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved the establishment of a new high-powered government body, the National Development Council (NDC), of which the country’s all-powerful army chief will be a member, a federal government notification issued on Tuesday said.
The memo said Khan would chair the eleven-member council comprising federal ministers, provincial chief ministers and federal secretaries. Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s formal inclusion in the body is unprecedented even by Pakistani standards, a country in which the military has ruled for almost half its history.
The council includes the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Federal Minister for Finance/Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance, Federal Minister for Planning, Development & Reform, Federal Minister for Commerce/Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce, Industries & Production and Investment, Secretary to the Prime Minister, Secretary Foreign Affairs Division, Secretary, Finance Division, Secretary, Planning, Development & Reforms Division and the four provincial chief ministers.
The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister, and the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan will be also be members of the body on invitation. The additional secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office will be the secretary of the council.
Defining the terms of reference (ToRs) of the council, the notification said it would set “policies and strategies for development, formulate and trailer policies to achieve accelerate economic growth, approve long term planning for national and regional connectivity and provide guidelines for regional cooperation.”