Thursday, April 9, 2009 13:58 IST
Lahore: Pakistani authorities have for the first time deployed paramilitary troops as part of elaborate arrangements to provide security to thousands of Sikh pilgrims from around the world, including India, arriving here to participate in Baisakhi celebrations.
"As Pakistan is in the grip of terror attacks, the government has decided to deploy Pakistan Rangers, besides police personnel, to ensure the safety of the visiting pilgrims," Fraz Abbas, Deputy Director (shrines) in the Evacuee Trust Property Board, sais.
This is the first time that the Pakistan Rangers have been deployed for the security of Indian pilgrims.
Pakistan has witnessed a series of deadly suicide bombings and terrorist attacks in recent weeks. The ETPB is responsible for maintaining gurdwaras and temples across Pakistan and facilitating visits by 'yatris' or pilgrims.
Last year, over 4,000 Indian Sikhs visited Pakistan to celebrate the Baisakhi festival that marks the end of the wheat harvesting season. "It is expected that not more than 1,000 Sikhs will come this year," Abbas said.
Elaborate security measures had been put in place to ensure the security of the pilgrims. "Close circuit TV cameras and walk-through gates have been installed in the five major gurdwaras in Punjab. Security officials will escort pilgrims on their way to holy places and guard them till the culmination of the festival," Abbas said.
No person will be allowed to enter the gurdwaras without a security pass. "The government has made the security pass mandatory even for ETPB officials, including its chairman, and media persons," Abbas said.
Unlike previous years, he said, the ETPB has also decided to arrange free transport for the pilgrims.
The yatris from India will arrive through the Wagah border by special trains from April 11. Officials of the ETPB and Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee will receive them.
The main function will be held in Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasanabdal.
During their nine-day stay in Pakistan, the Indian Sikhs will also visit Gurdwara Janamsthan in Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore, Gurdwara Succha Soda in Farooqabad and Gurdwara Rohri Sahib in Aimanabad. They will return home on April 20.
Local Sikhs and Hindus will also participate in the celebrations.
DNA: World: Pak deploys paramilitary to provide security to Sikh pilgrims