In a major victory for Imran Khan's Government in Pakistan, representatives of the Sikh community and leading businessmen in London have pledged to donate about £500mn worth financial funds to facilitate religious tourism in Pakistan following the foundation of the Kartarpur Corridor.
Addressing members of the Sikh community at the Rembrandt Hotel on 10th June, Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chairman of the Pakistan Tourism Board spoke about the significance of fostering religious tolerance between countries especially in light of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji.
“We need to use Kartapur corridor as a stepping stone with phase one of the project expected to be complete by the end of this year and phase two to follow suit. But aside from establishing an inter-faith society and a harmonious community, it is about promoting religious tourism which is a very lucrative business.
“We want investors to come in Pakistan and as part of the process we are also looking to open up and encourage the market for Buddhist and Hindu tourism which is huge in Pakistan,” said Zulfiqar Bukhari to Asian Voice.
The event that was organised by the Central Gurudwara (Khalsa Jatha), Shepherd's Bush, London and supported by Peter Virdee was attended by eminent personalities including Lord Ranbir Singh Suri, Preet Kaur Gill MP, Edgbaston, Birmingham, Dabinderjit Singh, Justice Anup Singh Choudry among others. Discussion at the event addressed fundamental points of concerns for the Sikh community especially with regards to issuance of online and on arrival visas to making commitments around development of a convenient transport system through Yutong Bus Company and accommodation services.
“These systems are new and we are facing 70 years of back log and red-tapism so it will take some time for us to establish smooth administrative services, but the tedious process will get easier. We started off with 500 pilgrims but we aim to have at least 5000 of them travelling per day in the coming years,” he said.
In the bid to cementing stronger bilateral and diplomatic ties between UK and Pakistan, he also hinted around the possibility of establishment of tourism desks and bureaucrats in Pakistani embassies in the UK to facilitate the visa application process for these pilgrims. This follows the recent development in UK-Pakistan relationship where British Airways resumed flights between Islamabad and London after a decade long suspension following the 2008 terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
“It is very important for Pakistan to establish itself connected with the world. Long gone are the days where it is allowed to be connected. Pakistan is currently in debt and it is important for us to have both religious and businessmen travel in and out of our country with ease,” he added.
However, ensuring that financial difficulties are waded out of this process, Peter Virdee of The Virdee Foundation, took the event to announce about the potential investment of £500mn in Pakistan in the next five years under a new religious trust called 'Guru Nanak Devji'.
Zulfiqar Bukhari is next expected to travel to the United States later this year in July and address the Sikh community there as part of his process of expanding religious tourism in Pakistan.