ISLAMABAD: Amid delays in the issuance of visas to pilgrims who have planned to visit Iraq for Arbaeen (chehlum), the Pakistani government has approached Iraq’s administration for urgent issuance of visas to Pakistani visitors so they could attend the religious rituals.

“We have asked the Iraqi government to allow Pakistani pilgrims to cross the border into Iraq immediately,” federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Sajid Hussain Turi, who held a meeting with Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, said on Saturday.

Mr Turi said the Iraqi envoy to Pakistan, Hamid Abbas Lafta, was fully cooperating with the government and added that a comprehensive pilgrimage policy was also on the cards to avoid such a situation in the future.

However, Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM), a Shia organisation based in Islamabad, accused the government of not taking the matter seriously and asked it to come up with better facilities for the pilgrims. “We reject the lame excuses made by the Iraqi government that it has not been able to make sufficient arrangements for pilgrims,” Nasir Sherazi, secretary general of MWM, said while talking about the difficulties faced by the pilgrims.

Mr Sherazi said that Iraq was denying entry to Pakistanis fearing they would not return to their country of origin and cause a law and order situation. “Such issues also came up in the past but were settled amicably,” he said, claiming that visas of Pakistani pilgrims were also being cancelled.

Last week, MWM also issued a statement condemning the ban on Pakistani pilgrims, criticising the government for failing to resolve the matter. It had also warned of protests if the issue was not settled soon.

In their meeting, Mr Sanaullah and Mr Turi also discussed the issue of Pakistanis imprisoned in foreign countries. Both sides committed to preparing a strategy to bring back the imprisoned Pakistanis.

The matter of Pakistani prisoners languishing in jails abroad has been taken up numerous times by the National Assembly and the Senate.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2022

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