India issued a demarche to Pakistan on Friday protesting harassment of its consular officials who were not allowed to meet Indian Sikh pilgrims visiting two shrines in the neighbouring country on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
The Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan to India, Syed Haider Shah, was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs, where senior diplomats also conveyed to him New Delhi's “grave concerns” over Islamabad's bid to promote Khalistani secessionist propaganda during the visit of Indian Sikh pilgrims to the shrines in the neighbouring country.
New Delhi alleged that Pakistan Government officials on Wednesday and Thursday had not allowed consular officials of the High Commission of India in Islamabad to meet Indian Sikh pilgrims visiting the Gurudwara Janam Asthan at Nankana Sahib and Gurudwara Sachcha Sauda at Farooqabad near Lahore in the neighbouring country.
New Delhi issued the demarche to Islamabad just a day after the two neighbouring nations vied to claim credit for making the first move to set up corridors for Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Darbar Sahib at Guru Nanak’s final resting place in Kartarpur in Pakistan on the occasion of the 550th birth anniversary of the first Sikh Guru.
Pakistan issued visas to over 3800 Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the shrines in the neighbouring country on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The Gurudwara Janam Asthan is among the holiest for the Sikhs as it marks the place where the founder of Sikhism was born on November 29 in 1469 and started preaching. The Gurudwara Sachcha Sauda too has a special place in the history of Sikhism as it came upon the place where Guru Nanak fed some hungry ascetics.
Islamabad issued visas to Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit the Gurudwaras in Pakistan in accordance with the 1974 bilateral protocol on visit to religious shrines. The Pakistan Government officials however denied consular officials of High Commission of India in Islamabad access to the shrines. “As a result of such harassment, they were compelled to return to Islamabad without performing their diplomatic and consular duties vis-a-vis Indian pilgrims,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release on Friday.
“We have shared our grave concern that this is the third consecutive visit of the Indian Sikh pilgrims when Pakistan has prevented the Indian High Commission officials from meeting the visiting Indian nationals on the pretext of security,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
New Delhi accused Islamabad of international legal instruments and conventions like the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963. “This is also in breach of the letter and spirit of the 1974 Bilateral Protocol on visit to religious shrines and the Code of Conduct for the treatment of diplomatic or consular personnel in India and Pakistan, 1992,” said the MEA spokesperson.
New Delhi reminded Islamabad that the way consular officials of the High Commission of India in Pakistan had been denied access to the pilgrims from India was “in contrast to the treatment met out” to the High Commissioner of Pakistan in New Delhi and his consular officials who have been provided full access to meet the Pakistani pilgrims who are currently in India on pilgrimage to Kalyar Sharif.
What also irked New Delhi are the reports that some posters criticizing Government of India and calling for the secession of Khalistan from India have been put up around the Gurudwara Nankana Sahib ahead of the visits of the pilgrims from India. “We have also expressed grave concern at the reports of attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Indian pilgrims to Pakistan, to incite communal disharmony and intolerance and promote secessionist tendencies with the objective of undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the MEA stated.
New Delhi called upon Islamabad to take all measures to not allow its territory to be used for any hostile propaganda and support for secessionist tendencies against India in keeping with the commitments made under the Simla Agreement, 1972 and endorsed in the Lahore Declaration, 1999.
“Pakistan has been reminded that such actions are not in consonance with the stated intentions of Pakistan to facilitate the visits of Indian Sikh pilgrims, especially as we commemorate the 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji,” said Kumar.