Sunday October 01, 2023

Start of a new era

January 07, 2022

The start of 2022 – a new year – proved to be very fruitful for my sincere efforts when on January 1 an international delegation of Hindu pilgrims, belonging to India and Middle-Eastern countries, arrived here.

At the invitation of the Pakistan Hindu Council, they came here to visit Shri Param Hans Ji Maharaj's Samadhi / Teri Temple located in the Karak District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The pilgrims also visited Parliament House, Supreme Court, Katas Raj Temple, Gurdwara Hassan Abdal, Nankana Sahib and other places during their religious tour to Pakistan. People, especially the locals of the Teri area, warmly welcomed the honourable guests and tried their best to facilitate in a friendly way.

Their historical arrival also reminded me of the events of the last 25 years, when an attempt was made to demolish the Samadhi in 1997, its premises were illegally encroached to block the entry of Hindu followers. In order to restore the sanctity of the holy place, I approached the Supreme Court, and raised my voice in the media and every forum available. In 2020, a mob of miscreants stormed the Samadhi, but thanks to the immediate action of the Supreme Court and the mobilisation of the administration, the restoration was made possible in a short time.

Later, the participation of Honorable Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed in the Diwali function at Teri Temple as a special guest paved the way for religious tourism. In November last year, Hindu pilgrims from various countries including Europe, India, Singapore, Canada, and UK visited the Teri Temple.

The Pakistan Hindu Council, after reaching an agreement with PIA, decided to send a flight to Delhi to pick up the passengers, but the Indian government at the last minute did not allow PIA's flight. Alternative arrangements were made to bring the pilgrims to Lahore via Wagah border.

However, what I observed at the border was not so pleasant for me. The environment there was very hostile, making it seem as though the two neighbouring countries are currently at war. Although the border between India and Pakistan is a reality, flowers should be presented to each other instead of the current animosity shown to each other.

During the current month – from January 28-30 – I will lead a delegation of 170 Pakistani pilgrims, including parliamentarians, to visit Khwaja Nizamuddin Dargah Delhi and Hazrat Moinudin Chishti Dargah Ajmer Sharif. Similarly, on February 20, Indian Yatrees, in an Air India flight, will land at Bacha Khan International Airport Peshawar to visit the Samadhi / Teri temple.

I have submitted an official request to the authorities for starting a series of monthly flights focused on faith tourism, one PIA flight from Pakistan to India every month and an Air India flight carrying passengers from India to Peshawar. In the next phase, special flights from other international cities are also under consideration. Similarly, international pilgrims will be facilitated to visit the Hinglaj Mata Temple Balochistan, one of the holiest places of the Hindu dharma.

Every year, international organisations, including the United States, criticise Pakistan on the basis of religious freedom and the rights of minorities. However, with such a large arrival of international pilgrims, Pakistan’s image has improved in a positive way. It is on record that immediately after the Pulwama attack I went to India with a message of peace. I had meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and other influential government officials. I was determined to bring the two countries closer then – and even today I have not given up.

I am quite confident that this initiative of faith tourism, with the blessing of God, will help bring the people of both countries closer. The day is not far when the India-Pakistan border will also be soft just like the borders between EU member states or the US-Canada border. However, peace activists across the border should also intensify their efforts for the revival of Mahatma Gandhi's India.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani