Pak steps up security for Baisakhi festival

Lahore: Pakistani authorities have put in place stringent security measures for the Baisakhi festival that will begin at Gurdwara Panja Sahib on April 12, including the deployment of paramilitary Pakistan Rangers to provide security to Sikh pilgrims from India.

Senior police official Akhtar Abbas said foolproof security arrangements had been made for pilgrims at Gurdwara Panja Sahib Hassanabdal.

Though the government had been guarding Sikh `jathas` for many years, the security cover will be further strengthened this year, he said.

More than 800 policemen, including commandos and over 100 officials in plainclothes, will be deployed for security duties. For the first time, luggage scanners will be installed at all sensitive locations.

Over 50 security cameras and walk-through gates have also been installed, Abbas said.

"Some 900 Sikhs are expected to arrive here from India while another 100 or so will come from other countries to take part in the Baisakhi festival," Evacuee Trust Property Board spokesman Amir Hashmi told PTI today.

Besides the Pakistan Rangers, police will be deployed to provide security to the pilgrims, he said.

Sikh pilgrims from Britain and other Western countries had started arriving in Lahore while the Indian Sikhs are expected to arrive through the Wagah land border from tomorrow, he said.

Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee chief Sardar Sham Singh said the ETPB had assigned duties to various federal and provincial government departments to facilitate the Sikh pilgrims during their 10-day stay in Pakistan.

Singh appreciated the efforts made by the Pakistan government and ETPB for arrangements such as security and free lodging for the pilgrims.

ETPB chairman Asif Hashmi said his organisation will ensure that the festival passes off peacefully.

"We have asked police and other law enforcement agencies to make all efforts to maintain peace when the Sikh pilgrims visit various districts and places, including Lahore, Nankana Sahib, Narowal and Hassanabdal," he said.

Hindu Welfare Council chairman Manohar Chand said the Sikh community felt secure in Pakistan.

"We are thankful to the government for holding all religious events of the Sikh community in a peaceful atmosphere," he said.

Around 3,000 Sikhs, including pilgrims from India, are expected to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib to participate in religious rituals during the Besakhi festival, ETPB official Syed Faraz Abbas told the media at Hassanabdal.

"We have finalised security and other necessary arrangements, including food and accommodation, at Gurdwara Panja Sahib for the pilgrims," he said.

After the religious rituals in Gurdwara Panja Sahib, the Sikh pilgrims will travel to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, on April 14.

The pilgrims will go Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore on April 17. Sikhs and Hindus from across Pakistan, including the tribal areas, Peshawar, Swat, Tando Adam, Larkana, Sukkur, Badin, Umar Kot, Karachi and Lahore will also join the Besakhi celebrations.