ISLAMABAD - President Dr Arif Alvi on Wednesday told a visiting delegation of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks that Pakistan was home to the Gandhara Buddhist heritage and was a proud custodian of some of the most sacred relics of Buddha.

The President has made these remarks while talking to a delegation of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks during meeting here at Aiwan-e-Sadr, said a press statement.

The president said there existed immense potential for promoting religious tourism from Sri Lanka to Pakistan and people to people contacts and religious tourism provide excellent platforms to further expand bilateral cooperation between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

President Alvi said Pakistan highly valued its ties with Sri Lanka as both countries enjoyed excellent relations in various fields which were based on mutual respect and trust.

He said Pakistan considered Sri Lanka as special partner and friend and wanted to further improve bilateral cooperation for the mutual benefits of the two friendly countries.

He told the delegation to encourage the monks and people of Sri Lanka to visit the Buddhist religious sites in Pakistan as it had far greater number of Buddhist artefacts than any other country in the world.

He added that people-to-people contacts and religious tourism provided excellent platforms to further expand bilateral cooperation. The President hoped that the delegation would enlighten their followers about Pakistan’s Buddhist heritage and also encourage them to undertake religious tours to Pakistan.

The delegation deeply thanked the government of Pakistan for making excellent arrangements to facilitate its visit to Buddhist sites. It also appreciated the measures taken by Pakistan for the renovation and preservation of Buddhist heritage sites.

Last month, a high-level military delegation from Sri Lanka called on the President and both sides had discussed promotion of religious tourism between the two countries.  In a related development, Pakistan and Sri Lanka on Wednesday agreed to form a working group to develop and promote religious sites related to Buddhism in Pakistan.

This understanding reached during a meeting between Minister for Religious Affairs Dr Noorul Haq Qadri and Sri Lankan Buddhist delegation held here.

Both sides discussed ways and means to promote religious interactions between the two countries and shared their proposals. The Sri Lankan side proposed organisation of Gandhara Conference, and Buddhist Scholarships for foreign students to create awareness about these two major subjects.

Speaking on the occasion, the Minister said Pakistan is safe and open country for all pilgrims from all over the world and centre of civilisations.