Pakistan denied consular access to Sikh pilgrims from India

India on Thursday lodged complaint at Pakistani high commission after Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan were not allowed to meet with India high commissioner and other Indian diplomats posted there. In a strong worded statement the ministry of External Affairs alleged that Indian diplomats were forced to return back when they went to meet the pilgrims at the famous Punja Sahib gurudwara.

The MEA statement said, “India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan against this inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy, pointing out that these incidents constitute a clear violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961, the bilateral Protocol to visit Religious Shrines, 1974 and the Code of Conduct (for the treatment of diplomatic/consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries.” India and Pakistan recently committed to follow the 1992 code of conduct after several weeks when Indian and Pakistani diplomats were routinely harrassed in each other’s capitals.

MEA said an Indian high commission team “could not meet the pilgrims on their arrival at Wagah Railway Station on April 12. Similarly, it was denied entry into Gurdwara Panja Sahib on April 14, for a scheduled meeting with pilgrims there. The High Commission was thus prevented from performing basic consular and protocol duties for Indian citizens.” The MEA said Ajay Bisaria, high commissioner to Pakistan, who was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), was suddenly asked to return while en route the shrine yesterday, for unspecified ‘security’ reasons.

Later in the afternoon, the Pakistan foreign office “retaliated” with their own statement saying India had misrepresented the facts and was trying to create a controversy out of nothing. “We deeply regret this Indian attempt to generate controversy around the visits of Sikh pilgrims and to vitiate the environment of bilateral relations.” They said Indian diplomats had been cleared to travel to the gurudwara, but reportedly some of the Sikh pilgrims were “angry” over an Indian film on Guru Nanak. Posing as the protector of Sikh sentiments, the Pakistan foreign office said they asked the Indian high commission to stay back.

A group of around 1800 Sikh pilgrims travelled to Pakistan on April 12 to visit some of the most revered Sikh Shrines in Pakistan, according to an existing bilateral agreement. In March, Pakistan protested after New Delhi refused to grant visas to more than 500 Pakistani pilgrims to attend an annual religious congregation marking the death anniversary of Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer Sharif.

In January, Pakistan accused India of blocking visas of 192 Pakistani pilgrims from visiting the Nizamuddin shrine in Delhi. Referring to this, Pakistan said, “It is ironic for the Government of India to accuse Pakistan of violating the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines, whereas it is the Indian Government that has, in clear violation of the Protocol, twice within this year denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims on occasions of Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (R.A.) and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri (R.A.) and scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims to Religious Shrines in Pakistan since June 2017.”

(With inputs from TOI and other agencies)