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Avoid Pakistan, government tells pilgrims

The government on Tuesday advised Indian pilgrims to avoid visiting Pakistan in view of the deteriorating security situation there.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2009 19:06 IST

The government on Tuesday advised Indian pilgrims to avoid visiting Pakistan in view of the deteriorating security situation there. But the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) said it was awaiting clearance for Sikh devotees wanting to visit Pakistan for a festival next week.

The home ministry said in a statement that it was "not advisable for Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan in the prevailing situation when frequent terrorist attacks are taking place in Punjab province of Pakistan, where all gurdwaras are situated".

The SGPC, the mini parliament of Sikh religion headquartered in Punjab's Amritsar city, has applied for permission from the home ministry to allow Sikhs to go to Pakistan next week in connection with Gurpurab, the birth anniversary celebration of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak Dev.

The birthplace of Guru Nanak is Nankana Sahib, near Lahore. SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar told IANS Tuesday that the Pakistan visit was an important religious event.

"We understand that the government issued the travel advisory in view of the bad situation in Pakistan. Anything can happen there. If the government feels that it (Pakistan) is unsafe, it should ban all travel to that country," Makkar said.

"We have applied for permission for our jatha (group) to go there. If the clearance is given, it becomes the responsibility of the Indian government to talk to Pakistan to ensure security of the Sikh pilgrims," he added.

The SGPC jatha for the Nov 2 event could have 1,500-2,000 devotees.

"The (travel) advisory alone does not help. If we (SGPC) don't send pilgrims, and pilgrims decide to go in smaller groups, it will be embarrassing for us," Makkar added.

Earlier this month, over 200 Indians who had gone to Pakistan on pilgrimage had to cut short their visit due to security concerns after the Pakistan Army's GHQ was attacked by terrorists in Rawalpindi.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in the latest wave of militant violence that began with a suicide bombing at the offices of the UN World Food Programme in Islamabad on Oct 5.

The most audacious attack was on Oct 10 when 10 terrorists in military uniform laid siege to the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. At least 19 people, including nine raiders, died in the 22-hour standoff.