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India lodges protest after Pakistan prevents envoy from meeting Sikh pilgrims

The MEA said the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, who was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib, was asked to return while en route the shrine on Saturday, for unspecified ‘security’ reasons.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2018 22:22 IST
Jayant Jacob
Jayant Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India,Pakistan,Indian diplomats
Sikh pilgrims pray during the Baisakhi festival at the shrine of Gurdwara Punja Sahib, the second most sacred place for Sikhs, in Hasan Abdal, some 50 kilometers from Islamabad, in Pakistan, on April 14, 2018. Thousands of Sikh pilgrims arrived from India and other countries to attend the harvest festival that is regionally known by many names and marks the Solar New Year.(AP)

India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan on Sunday for not letting its high commissioner and consular teams to meet Sikh pilgrims visiting the country, the external affairs ministry said, despite the two nations agreeing barely two weeks ago to resolve a discord over harassment to each other’s diplomats.

Islamabad countered the charge, accusing New Delhi of trying to “vitiate environment of bilateral relations”.

The two countries sparred over the alleged snub to the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, Ajay Bisaria. According to the external affairs ministry, Bisaria was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at Hasan Abdal in the Pakistani Punjab province to the meet the pilgrims on April 14 following an invitation from the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) — the gurdwara authority there.

But he was compelled to return en route to the shrine on Saturday for unspecified security reasons, the ministry said, terming the action “inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy”. It said the high commissioner was to greet the Indian Sikh pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi but he couldn’t.

“India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over a block of access for visiting pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams,” the ministry said in a statement.

Read | Obscene phone calls, ring the doorbell and run: How nuclear rivals India, Pakistan harass each other

Around 1,800 Indian Sikhs are in Pakistan since April 12 — their visit facilitated by a 1974 bilateral agreement that allows citizens of the two nations to make pilgrimages in each other’s territories.

New Delhi called the Pakistani action a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

It alleged that Pakistan breached the “the code of conduct (for the treatment of diplomatic and consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries”.

Giving permission to pilgrims to meet Indian diplomats is a standard practice that helps consular teams to reach out to its visiting citizens in case of medical or family emergencies. “This year the consular team has been denied access to Indian Sikh pilgrims,” the ministry said.

Besides, the consular team reportedly could not meet the pilgrims on their arrival at Wagah railway station on April 12.

The Pakistan foreign ministry clarified the security reasons. “In the run-up to the main function, the ETPB authorities noticed strong resentment among segments of Sikh yatris, gathered there from different parts of the world, protesting the release in India of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji,” the Pakistan Foreign Office said.

It said the ETPB authorities suggested the Indian officials to cancel the visit “considering an emotionally charged environment and the possibility of any untoward situation”.

According to an Indian intelligence official in New Delhi, who doesn’t want to be identified, the high commissioner was stopped at the last minute because some radicals probably wanted to discuss pro-Khalistan issues at the function and they didn’t want an Indian envoy to be privy to it.

Pakistan tried to turn the tables on India, accusing it of violating the 1974 agreement twice this year by denying “visas to Pakistani pilgrims on occasions of Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri and scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims … since June 2017”.

It went on to say that officials of the Indian high commission visited Gurdwara Punja Sahib on Sunday.

First Published: Apr 15, 2018 14:20 IST