Pakistan prevents Sikh pilgrims from meeting Indian envoy; India lodges protest

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New Delhi, April 15: India on Sunday lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over blocking of access of visiting Sikh pilgrims to Indian diplomats in that country and even “compelling” the Indian envoy to return while on way to a prominent gurudwara there.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said a group of around 1,800 Sikh pilgrims are on a visit to Pakistan from April 12 under a bilateral agreement on facilitating visits to religious shrines.
In a statement, the MEA also said the Indian High Commissioner, who was to greet Indian 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.
“India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over a block of access for visiting pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams,” it said in a statement.
The fresh incidents came, over two weeks after India and Pakistan agreed to resolve matters related to the treatment of diplomats after envoys of the two countries made claims and counter-claims about harassment of each other’s diplomats.
The MEA said 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 the shrine on Saturday, for unspecified “security” reasons.
It said 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 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/consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries,” the MEA said.
On not allowing the pilgrims to meet Indian diplomats, it said 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,” it said. (PTI)