Pakistan denies Sikh pilgrims consular access

Ministry of External Affairs says it is ‘diplomatic discourtesy’ and a clear violation of the Vienna Convention.

April 15, 2018 04:28 pm | Updated 10:50 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 Sikh pilgraims at the shrine of Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, Islamabad. File

Sikh pilgraims at the shrine of Gurdwara Punja Sahib in Hasan Abdal, Islamabad. File

Pakistan has violated established diplomatic protocols by preventing visiting Sikh pilgrims from meeting the Indian envoy and other diplomats based in Islamabad, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Sunday. A press statement issued by the ministry conveyed to Islamabad that by disallowing such a meeting, it has gone against an established convention.

“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,” said the official press release.

India said that that by denying the meeting, Pakistan has displayed diplomatic discourtesy and stated, “..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.”

MEA claimed that on April 14, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, was not allowed to visit the Gurdwara Panja Sahib.

“The Indian High Commissioner, 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 to the shrine for unspecified ‘security’ reasons,” the MEA said.

The Sikh pilgrims are visiting Pakistan as part of the Vaisakhi celebrations which mark the beginning of the Punjabi new year. As part of a bilateral understanding between two sides, Sikh pilgrims have been visiting Pakistan on important religious and cultural occasions every year. The total number of Sikh visitors visiting Pakistan this year is 1800.

This is the first controversy that has erupted over protocol-related issues after both sides resolved a spat over surveillance of each other’s diplomats. However, Pakistan had also accused India in March of not granting permission to pilgrims to attend the annual festivities at the Shrine of Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer.

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