A 12-member delegation of British Sikh soldiers visited Pakistan this week, expressing their appreciation for its efforts to preserve the two most holy sites of Sikhism and other historical places related to their religious leaders.
The two most revered shrines of the Sikh religion are Nankana Sahib, the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was born, and Kartarpur, where he passed away while preaching and is located in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
In the first such visit, the delegation of British Sikh soldiers visited all of the important religious and historical sites in Pakistan.
“I am very grateful to the Pakistani military for facilitating this amazing visit for our Sikh soldiers, as for many of them, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Major General Celia J. Harvey, the deputy commander of the UK’s field army and head of the delegation, told Anadolu Agency.
Pakistan opened the Kartarpur corridor on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday in 2019. The corridor is a visa-free border crossing and state-of-the-art religious corridor which facilitates the entry of pilgrims from the Indian side.
In a message to the Indian Sikh community, Harvey said: “I will ask the Indian Sikh community to come here and see the facilitation. They can stay here, have food, and worship as much as they want, and this can be a model project to increase cultural harmony amongst people of both countries.”
“I never imagined that this could be so amazing. While standing here in Kartarpur, I can say that this was nothing like I imagined, and I will always remember the warmth and friendliness of the people of this country,” she added, appreciating Pakistan’s efforts to preserve Sikh religious sites.
The Indian province of Punjab shares 425 kilometers (264 miles) with the Pakistani province of Punjab. It was a united province till 1947 when the province was partitioned at the time of the independence of India and the birth of Pakistan.
Both sides of Punjab still share a similar culture and language.
Corporal Chamandeep Singh, a passionate musician, while discussing the culture and music of Punjab, said: “We are here for so many days, and it feels like home. We are not feeling as if we are in another country. Punjab in India and Pakistan are the same. We felt so happy when people here talked with us in Punjabi.”
Coming from the Indian side for pilgrimage, a form has to be filled out on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs of India, and then approval can take three to 14 days after a detailed verification.
Gobind Singh, the chief priest of the Kartarpur corridor, said: “The Pakistani government has increased the capacity of the visitors to 5,000 people per day. But due to the Indian government’s restrictions and the long process of clearance, people are not able to come and visit the religious sites despite this being a visa-free facility. The Indian government should not use such tactics against the Sikh community.”
During their visit, the Sikh soldiers also presented guidebooks on the Defense Sikh Network, an official organisation representing Sikhs within the UK Ministry of Defense.
After completing their four-day trip to Punjab, the delegation travelled to Islamabad and visited the British High Commission and other religious sites of Sikhism including Gurdwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib, and Gurdwara Dera Sahib as well as Lahore Fort, the Wagah border, the Saragarhi Monument, Fort Lockhart and Samana Fort located in the tribal areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The delegation also visited the Pakistan Military Academy and met Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and thanked him for warmly hosting the delegation for the historic visit.
In a statement released on June 28, the Inter-Services Public Relations quoted the army chief as telling the delegation that “Pakistan respects all religions and also recognises the need for promotion of religious tourism in the country”.
“Kartarpur corridor is the practical manifestation of Pakistan’s unwavering commitment towards religious freedom and harmony,” he added.