Pakistan rejects allegations of blocking Indian envoy’s access to Sikh pilgrims

Sikh pilgrims at Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, some 50 km from Islamabad. AP/ PTI

Islamabad (PTI): Pakistan has rejected as “baseless” the allegations that it blocked access of visiting Indian Sikh pilgrims to Indian diplomats and even “compelled” the Indian High Commissioner to return while on way to Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Punjab province.

Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal also said that it was “deeply regrettable that facts in this matter had been completely distorted and misrepresented.”

India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over blocking of access of visiting Sikh pilgrims to Indian diplomats.

The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement in New Delhi yesterday said that the Indian High Commissioner, who was to greet Indian Sikh pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was compelled to return when he was en route to Gurdwara Panja Sahib on Saturday.

The MEA called it an “inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy” by Pakistan, holding that these incidents constitute a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Commenting on the MEA statement, the Foreign Office spokesman yesterday termed the “allegations as baseless.”

Faisal said the Secretary of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) had extended an invitation to the High Commissioner of India to attend the main function of Baisakhi at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib on April 14 and the foreign ministry granted the travel permission to him.

“However, in the run-up to the main function, the ETPB authorities noticed strong resentment among segments of Sikh Yatrees, gathered there from different parts of the world, protesting the release in India of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji.

“Considering an emotionally charged environment and the possibility of any untoward situation, the ETPB authorities contacted the Indian High Commission officials and suggested cancellation of the visit,” Faisal claimed.

He said the Indian High Commission officials, after due deliberation, conveyed back to ETPB their agreement to call off the visit in view of such a situation. “The cancellation took place with mutual understanding,” he claimed.

Faisal claimed that the facts regarding visits of consular / protocol teams on April 12 and 14 have also been twisted.

“The matter relating to the Protocol team’s access on the arrival of the Jatha at Wagha was expeditiously resolved through the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the concerned officials of the Indian High Commission chose not to return, even though they were duly notified that the requisite clearance has been granted,” he said.

Faisal said that there was no scheduled meeting with pilgrims on Saturday.

On Sunday, the officials of Indian High Commission visited Gurdwara Punja Sahib, he claimed.

“We deeply regret this Indian attempt to generate controversy around the visits of Sikh pilgrims and to vitiate the environment of bilateral relations,” Faisal 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 and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri and scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims to Religious Shrines in Pakistan since June 2017,” Faisal claimed.