India is willing to cooperate with Pakistan on expanding the number of religious shrines that pilgrims from both sides can visit. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs Official Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi revealed India’s interest during a virtual weekly media briefing.
Important to note, the bilateral “Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines” of 1974 mandates Pakistan and India to facilitate pilgrim visits. To clarify, the protocol currently includes five Muslim shrines on the Indian side and 15 shrines on the Pakistani side, a majority of them are gurdwaras.
However, the two sides are looking into expanding the agreed list of shrines and modes of travel. As of now, pilgrims travel via the Wagah land border and the Kartarpur Corridor.
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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 said.
"Under 1974 Protocolbetween #India & #Pakistan, visits to religious shrines are being facilitated regularly.There is an interest on both sides to expand agreed list of shrines & mode of travel. It naturally needs to be discussed under Protocol,"said MEAspokesperson #ArindamBagchi pic.twitter.com/DSVO6D8BRn
— Yunus Shah (@Sh0333yunus) January 29, 2022
Pertinent to mention, India’s announcement comes after Pakistan proposed travel by air for pilgrims. As a result, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) and member of the Pakistan National Assembly suggested two proposed chartered flights could carry about 170 Pakistani pilgrims. He also suggested that Air India flights can carry Indian pilgrims to Pakistan. Vankwani further suggested the first flight from the Pakistani side could operate on January 29.
Indian government denies PIA plane permission to land
Interestingly, the Indian government did not allow Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to land. Moreover, the move came after Bagchi declared India’s willingness to cooperate with Pakistan,
On January 29th, the Indian government refused a PIA request for landing at Jaipur International Airport. The flight aimed at facilitating Hindu pilgrims traveling between Karachi and Jaipur.
According to sources privy to the matter, the PIA sought permission from the Indian Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow a special flight from Karachi to Jaipur carrying Hindu pilgrims on January 29.
The special PIA flight was arranged on the request of the PHC for visit to religious sites and according to sources, the flight had to carry 160 pilgrims from Karachi to Lahore on Saturday morning and then to Jaipur. The PIA officials confirmed that the Indian government refused PIA’s request to land at Jaipur airport.
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