Islamabad says Delhi distorting facts over Sikhs’ jatha to Panja.
New Delhi/Islamabad: India and Pakistan on Sunday engaged once again in a fierce war of words, with New Delhi lodging a strong protest with Pakistan over “blocking of access” for visiting Indian Sikh pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams. New Delhi is also furious that Indian high commissioner Ajay Bisaria was asked by the Pakistanis to return en route while travelling to the famous Panja Sahib Gurdwara on grounds of “security”.
Islamabad has, however, denied these allegations and in turn accused India of “distorting and misrepresenting facts”. Pakistan claimed the Indian high commission and the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) in Pakistan had mutually agreed to cancel the high commissioner’s visit beforehand as some Sikh pilgrims from across the world gathered in Pakistan were agitated over the film Nanak Shah Fakir on the first Sikh guru and founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak, which incidentally has generated controversy over its release in India. It was the ETPB that had invited the Indian high commissioner to the gurdwara. Islamabad also claimed it had “resolved” the issue of access and given clearance for Indian officials to meet the Indian Sikh pilgrims at Wagah on April 12 (after permission was initially refused) but the Indian high commission officials did not return. Islamabad also said Indian high commission officials visited Gurdwara Panja Sahib on Sunday.
New Delhi, meanwhile, said a “jatha” (batch) of 1,800 Indian Sikh pilgrims are currently visiting Pakistan and that as per “standard practice, the Indian high commission’s consular/protocol team is attached with visiting pilgrims, to perform consular and protocol duties, like helping out in medical or family emergencies”. India accused Pakistan of “diplomatic discourtesy” and said 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”. It may be recalled that India and Pakistan had resolved a diplomat harassment row just last month after both countries claimed that their diplomats were being harassed in the other country.
It may be recalled that Pakistani security agencies including the notorious ISI have long been under the scanner for their suspected role in trying to get pro-Khalistan elements in Europe and North America to instigate Indian Sikh pilgrims who visit Pakistan.
In a statement from New Delhi, the external affairs ministry said: “India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over a block of access for visiting pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams. A jatha of around 1,800 Sikh yatris has been travelling in Pakistan from April 12, under a bilateral agreement on facilitating visits to religious shrines. A standard practice has been that the Indian high commission’s consular/protocol team is attached with visiting pilgrims, to perform consular and protocol duties, like helping out in medical or family emergencies. However, this year, the consular team has been denied access to Indian Sikh pilgrims. The 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 added: “Moreover, on April 14, the Indian 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 to the shrine, for unspecified ‘security’ reasons. The high commissioner, who was to greet Indian pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was thus compelled to return without meeting Indian citizens. India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan agai-nst 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 Cond-uct (for the treatment of diplomatic/consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries.”