ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday clarified its stance over denial of consular access to visiting Sikh pilgrims.
In a statement, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said, "The Secretary of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) had extended an invitation to the High Commissioner of India to attend the main function of Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib on 14 April 2018. The (Pakistani) Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly processed the matter on 13 April and granted the travel permission."
"However, in the run-up to the main function, the ETPB authorities noticed strong resentment among segments of Sikh Yatrees, gathered there from different parts of the world, allegedly protesting the release of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji in India. Considering an emotionally charged environment and the possibility of any untoward situation, the ETPB authorities contacted the Indian High Commission officials and suggested cancellation of the visit," the statement added.
The statement further stated that the ETPB acted with sincerity and in good faith, and the cancellation took place with mutual understanding.
Last week, 1,800 Sikh pilgrims from India had travelled to Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Rawalpindi.
However, Pakistani authorities reportedly blocked the Indian High Commission from performing basic consular and protocol duties for Indian citizens.
Earlier in the day, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India has lodged a strong protest with Pakistan after a visiting group of Sikh pilgrims was denied consular access.
"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 an official statement. (ANI)