Islamabad claims of avoiding embarrassment to India for protests in controversial film on Guru Nanak Devji

Pakistan government has rejected India’s allegations of blocking Sikh pilgrims’ access to Indian diplomats and consular teams as “baseless” and regretted that facts had been distorted and misrepresented “to mislead the public opinion”.

Mohammad Faisal, the spokesman of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was responding to questions raised on Sunday. He said that the factual position is that India’s High Commissioner was invited to attend Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin function at the Gurdwara Panja Sahib on 14 April 2018. The Foreign Office promptly processed the matter on 13 April and granted the travel permission.

He also wrote a series of tweets on his official handle.

However, the organisers of the function noticed strong resentment among Sikh pilgrims, gathered there from different parts of the world, protesting the release in India of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji.

Acting on the emotionally charged environment and the possibility of any untoward situation, the organisers contacted the Indian High Commission and suggested cancellation of the visit.

Accordingly the Indian High Commission conveyed back to the organisers their agreement to call off the visit. The organisers of the event: Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), acted with sincerity and in good faith, and the cancellation took place with mutual understanding, the spokesman claimed.

The statement available on the official website of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs say that, however, on 14 April, the matter was raised with the Foreign Office in Islamabad and the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and a ”protest” was lodged.

According to the Pakistani official, responding to the India’s protest, “the factual position was duly communicated to the Indian side, both in Islamabad and New Delhi. Despite that, we have seen that a wrongful version has been presented to mislead the public opinion”.

Foreign Office says high commissioner was prevented from meeting Sikhs in anticipation of the protest.

Read More: India protest against Pak for denying diplomat’s access to Sikh pilgrims

In New Delhi Ministry of External Affairs, on Sunday, had issued a press release, saying that India has lodged a strong protest over a block of access for visiting pilgrims to Indian diplomats and consular teams.

India had called the Pakistani move as “inexplicable diplomatic discourtesy” pointing that these incidents constitute a clear violation of Vienna Convention of 1961, the bilateral protocol to visit religious shrines of 1974 and the Code of Conduct of 1992, recently reaffirmed by both the countries.

The Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman alleged that “the facts regarding visits of Consular/Protocol teams on 12 and 14 April have also been twisted”. The matter relating to the Protocol team’s access on the arrival of the Jatha at Wagha was expeditiously resolved through the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

However, the spokesman claimed that “the concerned officials of the Indian High Commission chose not to return, even though they were duly notified that the requisite clearance has been granted”. He also claimed that on 14 April, “there was no scheduled meeting with pilgrims. Today (15 April), the officials of Indian High Commission have duly visited Gurdwara Punja Sahib”, he added.

The spokesman said, “Despite that, we have seen that a wrongful version has been presented to mislead the public opinion. The facts regarding visits of consular/protocol teams on April 12 and 14 have also been twisted”.

However, the press release issued by Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi, earlier in the day 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”.

New Delhi further claimed that “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.”

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman further said “We deeply regret this Indian attempt to generate controversy around the visits of Sikh pilgrims and to vitiate the environment of bilateral relations. For decades, Pakistan has made excellent arrangements to facilitate the visits of Sikh Yatrees from across the world, including India, and extended protocol, reception, security, medical and other facilities. This is consistent with our religious ethos and traditions of hospitality”.

Pakistani officials  said that 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, he claimed, in clear violation of the Protocol, twice within this year denied visas to Pakistani pilgrims on occasions of Urs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (Delhi)  and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti  (Ajmer) and scuttled at least three visits of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims to Religious Shrines in Pakistan since June 2017.

Islamabad reiterated that “Pakistan will continue to adhere to the 1974 Protocol, as is evident from our issuance of visas to over 2,000 visas Sikh Yatrees from India. We hope that the Indian side would abide by the provisions of the Protocol in letter and spirit”.

Meanwhile Dawn reports that on Sunday, a large number of Sikhs held a protest at Gurdwara Punja Sahib, Hassanabdal, against the movie that they said hurt their religious sentiments. Men, women and children raised slogans against the controversial movie and urged the Indian government to ban it immediately. The movie is based on the life and teachings of Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak Dev.

Moreover, Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak committee’s general secretary Gopal Singh Chawala said that showing the Sikh’s first guru in human form was against the tenants of Sikhism.

Pakistan claims that Indian High Commissioner’s visit to Gurdwara Punja Sahib was cancelled for avoiding any untoward incident in his presence because of the strong resentment among segments of Sikh Yatrees, gathered there from different parts of the world, protesting the release of some film on Baba Guru Nanak Devji.

Nanak Shah Fakir is a controversial 2018 film on the life of the first Sikh guru: Guru Nanak Dev, produced by Gurubani Media Pvt. Ltd. It has been mired in controversies with protests from Sikhs asking for a ban on the film. The opponents claim that the movie depicts Guru Nanak and other prominent Sikh figures, including Babe Nanaki and Bhai Mardana, through human actors, which violates their religious tenets.

Dawn reports that India’s allegations came a day after Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa called for a “comprehensive and meaningful dialogue” between India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir.