India lodges protest with Pak over denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims

New Delhi: India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan after a visiting group of Sikh pilgrims was denied consular access, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Sunday.

“A Jatha (parade) of around 1,800 Sikh yatris (pilgrims) 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 MEA said in a press release.

Last week, 1,800 Sikh pilgrims from India had travelled to Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Rawalpindi.

However, Pakistani authorities have reportedly blocked the Indian High Commission from performing basic consular and protocol duties for Indian citizens.

“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 press release added.

Moreover, on April 14, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, who was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Chairman, was suddenly asked to return while en route to the shrine, for unspecified “security” reasons.

Bisaria, who was to greet the Sikh pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was compelled to return without meeting the visiting group.

Further, the MEA 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 and consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries.

The Sikh pilgrims are scheduled to return to India on April 21.

The latest diplomatic tussle between India and Pakistan comes after both the countries recently agreed to mutually resolve complaints of harassment of their respective envoys. (ANI)