The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee (SGPC) took up issues related to the safety of Sikhs in Pakistan and other religious matters with the authorities of Pakistan Punjab at a meeting held at Lahore on Monday.
A statement issued from the SGPC headquarters here stated that these issues were discussed during a meeting with a Pakistani delegation led by Punjab's (Pak) minister for justice and human rights, Raja Ashfaq Sarvar. The Pak Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was to chair this meeting but could not do so as he had to leave on a tour of China.
An 8-member SGPC delegation led by its chief Avtar Singh Makkar had on Sunday crossed over to Pakistan through the Wagah joint border check post. The meeting was called by Pakistan at the request of the SGPC authorities as during Shahbaz Sharif's visit to Punjab (India) in December last year, Makkar had discussed Sikh related issues with him and Sharif had invited him over to his country.
Safety of minorities
Among the issues that topped the agenda was the safety of minorities in Pakistan. In this context, the SGPC delegation referred to Sikh's being targeted by militant groups in the North West Frontier Province.
During discussions, Makkar told the Pakistan Punjab minister that the Sikhs had respect for all religions and had made contributions towards the economy of Pakistan. The minister assured the SGPC delegation that he would take up this issue with the Federal government of his country.
The other important issue was the denial of visas to Sikh pilgrims by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Makkar pointed out that a large number of Sikhs were often denied visas for visiting the historic gurdwaras of Pakistan with the 'jathas' of the SGPC.
Makkar also impressed upon the Pakistan Punjab minister on the need of simplifying the visa regime between the two neighbours. He favoured the setting-up of visa centres at Lahore and Amritsar.
Makkar also took up the issue of properties of historic gurdwaras in Pakistan which were being encroached upon by some people. The need for having trained 'granthis' (priests) in gurdwaras in Pakistan was also taken up with the minister and the SGPC offered to assist in this.
"The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and we got a positive response from the minister,” stated Makkar in the statement.