Tariq Ullah Wardag
ISLAMABAD: The Press Release issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs alleging that the High Commissioner of India was “prevented” from meeting the visiting Sikh pilgrims, Pakistan Foreign Affairs Spokesman Dr. Muhammad Faisal rejected the allegations as baseless.
The Spokesman said it was deeply regrettable that facts in this matter had been completely distorted and misrepresented. The factual position is that 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 and Khalsa Janamdin at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib on 14 April 2018.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly processed the matter on 13 April and granted the travel permission.
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.
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 ETPB acted with sincerity and in good faith, and the cancellation took place with mutual understanding.
Later in the day (14 April), however, the matter was raised with the Foreign Office in Islamabad and the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and a “protest” was lodged.
In response, the factual position was duly communicated to the Indian side, both in Islamabad and New Delhi.
Despite that, we have seen that a wrongful version has been presented to mislead the public opinion.
Dr. Faisal said that the facts regarding visits of Consular/Protocol teams on 12 and 14 April 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.
On 14 April, there was no scheduled meeting with pilgrims. On Sunday, i.e. 15 April, the officials of Indian High Commission have duly visited Gurdwara Punja Sahib.
Spokesperson said that we deeply regret this Indian attempt to generate controversy around the visits of Sikh pilgrims and to vitiate the environment of bilateral relations.
For decades, Pakistan has made excellent arrangements to facilitate the visits of Sikh Yatrees from across the world, including India, and extended protocol, reception, security, medical and other facilities.
This is consistent with our religious ethos and traditions of hospitality.
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.
For its part, Pakistan will continue to adhere to the 1974 Protocol, as is evident from our issuance of visas to over 2,000 visas Sikh Yatrees from India.
We hope that the Indian side would abide by the provisions of the Protocol in letter and spirit.