Pakistan allows shrine visit by hundreds of Indian Sikhs

Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan said it would allow hundreds of Indian Sikhs to travel by bus on a pilgrimage to the community's sacred shrine of Nankana Sahib in its territory.

"Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, as a special gesture, has decided to allow 10 buses carrying Sikh pilgrims from Indian Punjab to visit Nankana Sahib for the annual Baisakhi festival starting on April 13," a foreign ministry statement said on Friday.

Aziz made the decision "in deference to the wishes of the Sikh community" conveyed to him by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the chief minister of the neighbouring Indian state of Punjab, Arminder Singh.

The shrine is in the Pakistani province of Punjab. The Sikh homeland of Punjab was partitioned between India and Pakistan after independence in 1947.

Aziz has also directed authorities to work towards an early start for a bus service between the Pakistani city of Lahore and Amritsar in India.

The service was proposed by Pakistan in 2003. India conveyed its agreement through its Foreign Minister Natwar Singh who visited Islamabad last month, the statement said.

The South Asian rivals, who have fought three wars since independence, have been engaged in a peace dialogue since January last year.

During Natwar Singh's visit the two sides also agreed to launch a bus service between the Indian and Pakistani zones of Kashmir, their chief bone of contention