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Pakistan Denies Blocking Consular Access to Sikh Pilgrims, Says 'What About Our Citizens'

Apr 16, 2018

A day after India lodged a protest with Pakistan over blocking of access of visiting Sikh pilgrims to Indian diplomats, the neighbouring country termed the move as “ironic”, saying that it was India which first denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims and violated the 44-year-old protocol.

“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 and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri and scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims to religious shrines in Pakistan since June 2017,” said Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted the Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal as saying.

The Pakistan foreign office spokesman rejected the allegations as “baseless”, regretting that facts had been distorted and misrepresented.

On Sunday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said a group of around 1800 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 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 yesterday, 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.

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