Religious Tourism: An Informal Confidence Building Measure in the Indo-Pak Lexicon?

 By Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania

Informal Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) can be defined as an activity wherein there is an unofficial or informal interaction amongst members of adversarial groups of nations with the goals of developing friendship, influencing public opinion, organizing human and material resources, improving communication and mutual understanding’s in ways that might help in creating an environment for amity. They should not be thought as a replacement for formal or state centric CBMs, but as an indispensable preparation for and adjunct to them. Ideally speaking, informal CBMs should pave the way for formal CBM’s.[1]Unlike the official CBMs, whose principal aim is to avoid an unwanted outcome, informal CBMs main aim is to expand areas of co-operation and collaboration. This may lead to building co-operative institutions and arrangements, both formal and informal, incrementally overtime.[2]

Religious Tourism is one of the areas of informal CBM and can be the one positive which the two countries can explore. It is back on the agenda of India and Pakistan, though the riders’ attached along with, need to be carefully studied and monitored – the main concern being Security.

Nuances of Religious Tourism

Previously also such religious interactions have been taking place between the two countries but at a low scale, and at times not all, for instance  in the earlier occasions visits by Pakistan (zaireens) pilgrims was denied mainly because of the dispute over the alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who continues to be in Pakistan custody till date. The decision to promote religious tourism was the important take away from PM Narendra Modi’s meeting with his then counterpart Nawaz Sharif in a bilateral meeting in Russia’s Ufa in 2015’[3]

Around 160 Pakistani Pilgrims were granted visas for the urs (death anniversary) of Amir Khusro, signifying that religious tourism is back on India’s agenda with Pakistan. Many Indians too visit the Katas Raj temple in the Pakistani Punjab’s Chakwal district. In March, over a 100 Hindus from India went to Pakistan to celebrate Maha Shivratri there.[4] Religious tourism saw a renewed ray of hope and optimism generated by the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor in Pakistan’s Narowal district, which will facilitate Indian Pilgrim’s visiting the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.

The Pakistan government also plans to promote religious tourism in Elum Valley(Khyber Pakthunkhwa province) revered by both Hindus and Buddhists and is of great historical significance to them, Elum Valley has been a site of divinity and pilgrimage for both the Hindu and the Buddhist communities. According to Hindu belief, Lord Ram spent time meditating there during his 14 years of exile, while Buddhists believe it to be the site where a previous incarnation of Lord Buddha gave up his life.[5]

Greater Contact between normal people from either countries will certainly help create more exposure to each other and put aside a lot of preconceived notions argues Sanjana Joshi[6] Regularisation of contacts will create constituencies with vested interests in maintaining good relations.“When religious tourism really supported by the two governments takes off, it will create stakeholders on both sides in keeping this going,”[7]

Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, believes that there is no evidence that cultural and religious contacts can change fundamentally differing and incompatible interests. There is no serious literature in International Politics on the termination of rivalries that supports this proposition. If anything, those contacts might develop after the rivalry diminishes.[8]

Shahid Malik, who served two terms as Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, agrees that religious tourism is insignificant in the grander scheme of Indo-Pak relations. Although an advocate of a liberalised visa regime, he is not convinced that good sentiments and people-to-people exchanges will influence policymakers.[9]

The major challenges remain poor infrastructure, marketing strategies, visa access and most pertinent the security issues. The Kartarpur Corridor is one such security concern since the corridor would bring the Pakistani infrastructure right up to the Indian border. The Indian officials are weary that the corridor might be used by the non state actors for the furtherance of their goals. Over the past few years gurudwaras have been used for pro-Khalistan propagation.[10]

 International Law and Religious Tourism

In international law, it is incumbent on both countries to freely grant visas and facilities to the neighboring countries, for those nationals who wish to make religious pilgrimage to shrines and places of worship. Granting these is not a matter of discretion, but a legal obligation under a binding treaty India and Pakistan need to amend their restrictive visa policies and reaffirm the 1953 agreement. Paragraph 2 of the accord concerns grant of visas and promises “increased facilities for visits to places of worship in both countries should be granted to pilgrims on their auspicious days; the Sewadars and Khadims at such places of worship should be granted facilities for residence and adequate protection.” Though the accord was embodied in the form of minutes of the meeting, it nonetheless constitutes in law a binding treaty. Article 2(1)(a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1980) states clearly that “treaty” means “an international agreement concluded between states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation”. Thus an agreement embodied in an exchange of letters or the minutes of a meeting will constitute a binding treaty in international law with all the attendant consequences of its breach.[11]

 A Protocol on visits to Religious Shrines was signed on September 14, 1974[12], between Kewal Singh, Indian Foreign Secretary and Agha Shahi, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. Discussions on the question of protection, preservation and maintenance of places of religious worship in India and Pakistan were carried out.  The very first paragraph of their agreement said: “Every effort should be made to ensure that places of religious worship in both countries are properly protected and maintained and their sanctity preserved particularly in the case of buildings of historical importance; buildingswhich have been damaged should be repaired.” It is in both countries’ interest to actively promote such bilateral ties.  As of November 2018, fifteen locations in Pakistan and five in India are covered under this protocol.[14]


Religious tourism, a mechanism of informal interactions which will provide continuum in relationships, though it is too early to say that revival of religious tourism will have the potential to be called a confidence building measure, but it is a positive step towards people to people contacts between India and Pakistan. At the same time one has to remember to tread this path with caution, since Security will remain of paramount significance.


[1]Jyoti M. Pathania, Ajay Saksena, India & Pakistan, Confidence Building Measures Deep & Deep Publications Pvt Ltd, 2012
[2]NavnitaChaddha, Enemy Images: The Media and the Indo-Pak Lesson,” Michael and Amit Sevak, ed, p 183.
[3]SachinParashar ( July 3, 2018), Religious tourism back on agenda as India, Pakistan ... - Times of India Available at: › India News (Accessed on 11 Jan, 2019)
[4]Shehryar Nabi, (April 19, 2016), Divided by history, can religious tourism bring India and Pakistan closer?Available at: on 11Jan, 2019)
[5] Available at: on 11 Jan 2019)
[6] Sanjan Joshi is a senior consultant for the Indian Council for research on International Economic relations, who is working on a project to strengthen exchanges between India and Pakistan in the health sector.
[7]Shehryar Nabi, (April 19, 2016), Divided by history, can religious tourism bring India and Pakistan closer?Available at: /(Accessed on 11Jan, 2019)
[8] Ibid.,
[9] Ibid.,
[10] Shubhajit Roy, (Aug 22, 2018) Available at: (Accessed on 11, Jan 2019)
[11] AG Noorani, (30 Dec 2018) Politics must not come in way of Travel by Pilgrims, The Asian Age, Available at: (accessed on 14 Jan, 2019)
[12]Protocol on visits to Religious Shrines, September 14, 1974 Available at: (Accessed on 11, Jan, 2019)
[13]A.G.Noorani, (Dec 29, 2018), Religious tourism, Available at: on 11 Jan, 2019)
[14] Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines 1974 Available at: (Accessed on 13 Jan,2019)
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DR. JYOTI M. PATHANIA is working as a Senior Fellow and Chairperson Outreach committee at Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New-Delhi. A doctorate in Political Science, she graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in Political Science (Honors) and secured the Third rank in Delhi University. She obtained her M.A. and M.Phil. degree in “International Politics” from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She was selected to go on a scholarship to the European Peace University in Austria, Spain, and Ireland, where she pursued another Masters's in advanced studies in ‘Peace and Conflict Studies. She has over 20 years of teaching, training and research experience in various universities: to name a few; Symbiosis Law College Pune, Amity Law School Delhi, Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, Jammu University, Jiwaji University Gwalior, St. Xavier’s College Ranchi and also worked as an analyst for South Asian Analysis Group and was also the Assistant Director of the Amity Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She has also qualified for National Eligibility Test for lectureship under University Grant Commission. Recipient of various awards and scholarships, to name a few, Prof. Randhir Singh Award for securing distinction in Political Theory, Prof. N. N. Aggarwal Memorial Award, Austrian Govt. Development Scholarship, H.P. State Govt. Scholarship, National Talent Scheme Scholarship, Delhi University. She was also awarded by the Chief Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat for excellence in research and establishing collaboration with international research institutes. She has authored books and written articles for various newspapers and journals both national and international. She is also the founding editor of the Online Indian Journal of Peace & Conflict Resolution. Her book on India- Pakistan: Confidence Building Measures was one of the first few books on the subject. Her areas of specialization are International Politics, Conflict Resolution & Peace, Non-Traditional Security, and South Asia.