A prominent Hindu lawmaker from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's ruling party on Wednesday urged India to issue visas to a delegation of pilgrims to visit the country as part of his faith tourism initiative between the two neighbouring countries.
Patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council and Member of National Assembly Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani said on Monday that he would lead a delegation of Pakistani pilgrims to India on January 29 on a special chartered flight of the Pakistan Airlines International (PIA).
In a video message shared with PTI, he said that a group of 170 pilgrims who were ready to go to India by a special flight of the PIA were waiting for New Delhi's approval.
"I hope that approval will come from India by tomorrow. I have written a letter today to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. I have urged (India) to issue tomorrow, in one day, pilgrimage visas to 170 people or they should be given visas on arrival, he said.
In New Delhi, there was no official word on the proposal from the Indian side.
Vankwani said that the schedule of travel on January 29 should not be disturbed as all arrangements have been made, including chartered PIA planes. So there should not be any change in the plan, he urged.
He also said the pilgrims would visit Ajmer Sharif, Jaipur, Agra, New Delhi and Haridwar and then fly back on February 1 by using the PIA flight. He said that a delegation of 170 devotees from India would travel to Pakistan on February 20, followed by another delegation from India on March 1.
Vankwani claimed that the religious tourism initiative had already begun on January 1 when a delegation came to Pakistan from India.
He said that the faith tourism initiative has the potential to deepen bilateral relations and in days to come, it will expand from religious tourism to trade and travel and finally work as a big bridge to improve ties between the two countries.
His video message came a day after diplomatic sources in Islamabad told PTI that the Indian government has not formally consented to Vankwani's proposal.
"It is purely a private initiative by Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, but he needs consent of the Indian government, which has not been granted as yet, according to the sources here, amidst a chill in bilateral ties between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism.
To a question about the approval of Pakistani authorities to the idea of Vankwani for launching religious tourism with India, the sources just said that "Foreign Office is on board" about the proposal.
Vankwani said that he would lead the group of Pakistani devotees to India as part of faith tourism between the two countries.
"We have started faith tourism. Every month a flight will go from here (Pakistan) to there (India) and vice versa, he said in a voice message shared with PTI.
Devotees from India would come to Pakistan by Air India flight and travellers from Pakistan to India would fly by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), he said.
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