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This article was first published 12 years ago

PM to mirror Zardari, likely to visit Pak on pilgrimage

Last updated on: May 3, 2012 13:36 IST

Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Zardari met in New Delhi ahead of the Pakistan President's visit to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan on April 8
Kavita Chowdhury

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to visit religious places in Pakistan, a move that could be of political significance for the two countries. Officials are considering a visit by Dr Singh to Pakistan in November, mirroring Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's Ajmer Sharif pilgrimage.

Two revered Sikh shrines in the neighbouring country are being considered. One, the birthplace of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak, Nankana Sahib in Pakistan's Punjab province, which attracts Sikh pilgrims from across the world. Two, Panja Sahib, near Hasan Abdal, Rawalpindi, which has a rock that is said to bear the imprint of Guru Nanak's panja (hand).

The visit could be timed keeping in mind Guru Nanak's birth anniversary celebrations in November. The birth anniversary festival, Gurpurab, would coincide with Kartik Purnima.

When contacted, the communications adviser to the PM, Pankaj Pachauri, said he was not aware of the planned visit and it had not been discussed.


PM to mirror Zardari, likely to visit Pak on pilgrimage

Image: PM is expected to visit Nankana Sahib, the birth place of Baba Guru Nanak, near Lahore
Photographs: Reuters

After Zardari's personal visit to the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif last month and his invitation to Dr Singh, the foreign office has been deliberating on the best time for a return visit and the best way to package it.

After a 40-minute one-on-one meeting with Zardari at his residence in New Delhi, Dr Singh had hosted a lunch for the Pakistani president and his entourage. The PM had then said, "I am very satisfied with the outcome of this visit and President Zardari has also invited me to visit Pakistan. I would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date."

Political observers say a state visit could be misconstrued, both in India and Pakistan, with Islamabad having reported very little success in the prosecution of those alleged to have been behind the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. And yet, with rapidly normalising relations between India and Pakistan and the eventual exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan, it is imperative that India and Pakistan be on the same page against a possible Taliban resurgence.

PM to mirror Zardari, likely to visit Pak on pilgrimage

Image: Dr Singh may also visit Panja Sahib, near Hasan Abdal, Rawalpindi
Photographs: Reuters

In March 2006, the PM had flagged off a bus service between Amritsar and Nankana Sahib, establishing a 130-km road link connecting the two holy sites of the Sikh religion. The road link had been a long-standing demand from people on both sides of Punjab.

Dr Singh has emotional ties with his birthplace in Gah village in Pakistan. He is the second Indian PM after I K Gujral to have been born in what is now Pakistan. He has expressed a desire to visit the country of his birth several times in the past, but a visit never came about.

In 2006, Dr Singh was scheduled to visit Nankana Sahib to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, but it did not materialise.

PM to mirror Zardari, likely to visit Pak on pilgrimage

Image: A finger points to the name of Dr Singh on a register record of a primary school in the Pakistan town of Gah, some 80 km southwest of Islamabad
Photographs: Reuters

Again, in 2008, Dr Singh's visit was imminent and on that occasion his ancestral village, Gah, came into prominence with officials from the Indian Energy Research Institute installing solar lights on every street.

His childhood friend and schoolmate, Raja Mohammad Ali, also from Gah, had subsequently met Dr Singh in New Delhi in May 2008. Two years earlier, when there was talk of setting up the Guru Nanak Dev International University devoted to the teachings of Guru Nanak at Nankana Sahib, the PM was invited to the inauguration. Now that relations between both countries are showing signs of improvement, the timing appears apt for a visit.

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