‘Pilgrims shouldn’t travel to Pak’

NEW DELHI: A day after Pakistan's Interior Minister Rahman Malik accused India of aiding the Taliban, India's home ministry has issued an advisory warning its citizens against travel to Pakistan.

The advisory is intended particularly for pilgrims who would seek permission to visit pilgrimage sites associated with Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, whose birthplace is located at Nankana Sahib, near Lahore in Pakistan, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Sikhism's founder. In a statement today, the home ministry said it was "not advisable for Indian pilgrims to visit Pakistan in the prevailing situation when frequent terrorist attacks are taking place in Punjab province of Pakistan, where all gurdwaras are situated".

With the Pakistan army currently engaged in a bitter armed conflict with terrorists in its frontier region of South Waziristan, militants from the region are hitting at the heart of Pakistan's Punjab. Nearly 200 people have been killed in the latest wave of militant violence that began with a suicide bombing at the offices of the UN World Food Programme in Islamabad October 5.

The most audacious attack was on October 10 when 10 terrorists in military uniform laid siege to the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.

At least 19 people, including nine raiders, died in the 22-hour standoff. Among other strikes blamed on the Taliban have been attacks on the Islamic University in Islamabad and on the air force

station at Kamra believed to contain nuclear capable missiles, prompting a worried Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao to urge Pakistan to adequately "secure its nuclear assets."

It is unlikely that today's advisory had anything to do with Malik's comments, which officials and the government dismissed as "preposterous" and "absurd," but sources said there was a real threat to Indian citizens in the wake of the deteriorating law and order situation in Pakistan. After turning Pakistan into an Islamic state, Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has threatened to bring his war to India.

Malik's comments, which an official said reflected the "warped mentality of members of Pakistan's establishment, who choose to blame India for their own creations," were echoed by former minister Mushahid Hussain, who now chairs the Pakistan Senate's foreign relations committee.