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Pakistan Aims to Facilitate Increased Sikh and Hindu Pilgrimages from India, Says Minister

A Pakistan minister on Wednesday said the country is putting in efforts to increase the number of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims from India, as the number has decreased amid tensions.

Lahore:

Pakistan's caretaker Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed on Thursday said the country has initiated efforts to increase the number of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims from India as their numbers have dwindled in recent years, amidst the chill in bilateral ties.

Speaking to reporters during his visit to the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB), which looks after the holy places of minorities in the country, Ahmed said that under an agreement between Pakistan and India at least 7,500 Sikh and 1,000 Hindu pilgrims from India could visit Pakistan each year.

"Since the number of Indian pilgrims is less than the agreed one during the last many years, we have initiated efforts to increase the number of pilgrims from India," he said.

There are two major events -- Baba Guru Nanak's birth anniversary and Vaisakhi Mela -- celebrated in Pakistan in which around 5,000 Indian Sikhs participated last year.

Similarly, less than 300 Indian Hindus visited Pakistan last year to celebrate the birth anniversary of Shiv Avtari Satguru Sant Sawami Shadaram Sahib at Hayat Pitafi Sindh province and Katas Raj temples in Chakwal, Punjab province, last year.

Bilateral relations between Islamabad and New Delhi have been tense since August 2019 when India changed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

On India's ties with Pakistan, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has made it clear that it is not possible for India to have normal relations with the neighbouring country until the policy of cross-border terrorism is abrogated.

Ahmed said that the ETPB offered scholarships worth 13 million Pakistani Rupees to non-Muslim students in the country last year.

The minister said a lot of work has to be done to increase religious tourism to promote the soft image of Pakistan.

EPTB Chairman Ataur Rehman told the federal minister that the board owns 109,000 acres of agricultural and non-agricultural land across the country.

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