Representatives of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhik Committee (SGPC) took up the issues related to safety of Sikhs in Pakistan and other religious matters with the authorities of Pakistan-Punjab at a meeting held in Lahore on Monday.
A statement issued by the SGPC headquarters here stated that the issues were discussed with a Pakistani delegation led by Punjab’s (Pak) minister for justice and human rights Raja Ashfaq Sarvar during a meeting.
Pakistan-Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was scheduled to chair the meeting, but he had to leave on a tour of China.
An eight-member delegation led by SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar on Sunday crossed over to Pakistan through the Attari 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, Makkar had discussed Sikh-related issues with him and Sharif had invited him over to his country.
Among the issues that topped the agenda was safety of minorities in Pakistan. The SGPC delegation expressed their concern over Sikhs being targeted by militant outfits in 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 the 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 are often denied visas for visiting the historic gurdwaras in Pakistan with the ‘jathas’ of the SGPC. Makkar also impressed upon the Pakistan Punjab minister on the need to simplify the visa regime between the two neighbours. He favoured the setting up of visa centres in 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 for discussion with the minister. 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.