Monday, September 24, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

SGPC gives rooms to foreigners
Varinder Walia and Ashok Sethi

Foreign nationals in Amritsar
Foreign nationals arrive at the Golden Temple complex after cutting short their visit to Pakistan on Sunday. Photo Rajiv Sharma

Wagah, September 23
The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) today got the top storey of its VIP guest house Sri Guru Hargobind Niwas Bhai Gurdas Hall and other serais vacated with a view to provide free board and lodging to the foreign nationals advised by their respective missions to leave Pakistan and cross over to India through the Wagah checkpost in view of the heightened tension in the region.

The SGPC has also deployed its task force for the security of the foreign nationals, who have already arrived at the Golden Temple in large numbers.

A French tourist, Ms Sig Pailhes, who had to cut short her visit to Pakistan, talking to TNS at the Golden Temple complex, said she was advised by her mother to shift to India. She said her mother told her that India was the safest place in view of the US threat to bomb Afghanistan.

In all, more than 70 foreign nationals, from countries like Canada, the USA, Austria, Korea, Germany, France, Poland and the UK have been staying in the Golden Temple complex for the past three days. Dr Gurbachan Singh Bachan, Secretary, SGPC, and Mr Narinderpaul Singh, information officer, said it was for the first time that a large number of foreigners had reached the Golden Temple in such a short span. They expect more to arrive in the coming days.

According to Mr Vineet Ohri, Commissioner, Customs, 231 foreigners, including 12 members of the diplomatic staff from Poland, have crossed over to India through the Wagah checkpost. He said the Government of India had received requests from various missions in New Delhi to facilitate the passage of the diplomatic staff, their families and foreign tourists whenever they wished to cross over to India through the land route.

Representatives of various high commissions and embassies in New Delhi have been camping commissions and embassies in New Delhi have been camping here for the past few days to facilitate the entry of their nationals and diplomatic staff into India. Some of the diplomats, preferring anonymity, said they had made elaborate arrangements for taking them to New Delhi en route to their respective countries.

Two German nationals, Christvoss and Gisela Aptyka, who are camping in the Golden Temple complex, said about 2.5 million Afghan refugees were taking shelter in Pakistan near the Afghan border. The situation in Peshawar and Quetta, bordering Afghanistan, was tense due to the presence of a large number of refugees, they said. The Taliban could target Pakistan for its support to the USA, they said. Lahore, Karachi and other cities were tense due to the stiff opposition by radical Muslims to the stand of General Pervez Musharraf, the German nationals said.

Most of the foreigners interviewed by TNS said there would be a large exodus from Pakistan in case war broke out between Afghanistan and the USA.

An Austrian tourist, Ms Suslnne, said the situation in Pakistan could go from bad to worse in case of war. A US tourist, Michael Whitcher, said Mr George W. Bush would have to attack Afghanistan to ensure his political survival.

The nationals of countries other than the USA felt that the people of Afghanistan should not be killed for the sake of catching Osama bin Laden as the country was facing unprecedented starvation which had resulted in many deaths.

A Buddhist monk from Korea, Shin Sung Gyu, pleaded that the problem could be solved through non-violence as preached by Mahatma Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. He said he would pray at Bodh Gaya and Sarnarth for the sake of peace.

In all, 33 persons have crossed over to India from Pakistan, including the family of a senior diplomat in the Indian mission at Islamabad, Mr Kamal Parvez. He is the first Indian diplomat to have sent home his family members Razia Shamsi (mother), Nyama Parvez (wife), Ramaz Shamshi (son) and Shyra Shamshi (daughter) on the Shatabdi Express and himself later returned to Pakistan.Back

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