Pakistani athletes win symbolic victory for their trip to Taj Mahal

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The Independent Online

Determined that Commonwealth Games' athletes and delegates should get the most out of their trip to India, organisers are arranging trips to the Taj Mahal, putting on special trains that will whisk the visitors to the World Heritage site in the morning and bring them back in the evening. Except perhaps, for the delegation from Pakistan.

With relations between the two countries still decidedly tense in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks in 2008, reports say that visas issued to athletes and officials from Pakistan will force them to remain in Delhi. It is normal that visas for citizens of India and Pakistan, when visiting the other country, are "city specific" and do not give them permission to move around freely. A report in the Indian Express newspaper said security officials had told Games' organisers there could be no exceptions to this rule.

Pakistan is to bring around 70 competitors to Delhi, the first of whom are due to arrive later today. An official at the Pakistani High Commission in Delhi said he was uncertain what visas his team had been given and that he did not know whether they would be forced to remain in the capital.

"It would be very frustrating for us if our athletes are not able to join the trips to see the Taj Mahal," he said. "I don't know what visas they have but I hope that they include permission for Agra [where the Taj Mahal is located] as well as Delhi."

The 17th-century site, one of the most famous buildings in the world, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as a mausoleum for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Located south of Delhi, Agra can be reached in just two hours by express train and the Games' organisers are arranging special trips that will allow visitors to see the building, eat lunch at a five-star hotel, and then return to Delhi in the evening.

Last night, a spokesman for the Games' organising committee, Lalit Bhanot, told The Independent, that trips to the Taj Mahal were going ahead and that the invitation had been extended to Pakistanis as well. He added he would investigate claims that Pakistani athletes' visas would prevent them from taking part in the programme.

"The invitation is for everybody. We do not want to discriminate against anyone," he said. "We said we are going to take people to the Taj Mahal and we are going to do that."