India protests as Pakistan stops Sikh pilgrims from meeting diplomats

National | April 15, 2018, 5:43 p.m.

New Delhi, April 15: India has protested to Pakistan after it prevented a group of Sikh pilgrims from meeting the Indian diplomatic staff, the External Affairs Ministry said on Sunday.

"India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over a block of access for visiting pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams," the Ministry said in a statement.

It said around 1,800 Sikh pilgrims have been travelling to 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," the statement said.

"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."

According to the statement, the Indian consular team was also denied entry into Gurdwara Panja Sahib on Saturday for a scheduled meeting with the pilgrims there.

"The High Commission was thus prevented from performing basic consular and protocol duties for Indian citizens," it stated.

On Saturday, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria, who was to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), was told to return while en route to the shrine for unspecified "security" reasons.

"The High Commissioner, who was to greet Indian pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was thus compelled to return without meeting Indian citizens," the statement 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/consular personnel in India and Pakistan) of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both countries."

Last month, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told the media here that the Indian High Commission in Pakistan was facing "a litany of issues" which have not been resolved for several months.

His comments came after Pakistan called back its High Commissioner to India, Sohail Mahmood, for consultations after allegations of harassment of Pakistani diplomats in India.
 

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