ISLAMABAD: The Fore­ign Office (FO) denied an Indian allegation on Tuesday that Pakistan had instigated Sikh pilgrims to agitate over the Khalistan issue and cautioned New Delhi against fanning this controversy.

The ongoing row has marred the Sikh pilgrimage for Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin ceremonies over the last fortnight.

“Pakistan categorically rejects Indian allegations of attempts to incite Indian pilgrims on the issue of Khalistan. By spreading such falsehoods, India has chosen to deliberately stoke further controversy around the visit of Sikh pilgrims,” the FO said in a statement.

India’s external affairs ministry handed to Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi a protest over alleged attempts to raise the Kha­listan issue during the visit of Sikh pilgrims. The ministry asked Pakistan to immediately stop the alleged activities “aimed at undermining India’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and incitement of disharmony in India”.

The visit by a group of 1,800 Indian Sikhs has this year turned into a diplomatic spat because of deteriorating ties between the two countries. It started after an Indian claim that its high commissioner and high commission staff in Islamabad were being denied access to the pilgrims.

The FO had on that occasion said that the matter was being misrepresented.

The FO, in its statement on Tuesday, repeated its position that the Sikh community had been protesting against the Indian government over the release of a controversial movie which hurt their religious sentiments. These protests, the FO contended, had started in India and other parts of the world before the pilgrims arrived in Pakistan.

“In view of the charged situation and the explicit refusal of the Sikh pilgrims to meet Indian officials, the Indian high commissioner cancelled his visit on April 14. Indian attempts to distort the truth and obfuscate facts are unethical and regrettable,” it said.

Recalling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Pakistan’s inter­nal issues, the FO said it was ironic that New Delhi was now indulging in blatant hypocrisy by twisting facts.

In reply to the Indian external affairs ministry’s assertion that the latest incident went against the spirit of the 1974 protocol governing the exchange of pilgrim visits between the two countries, the FO said Islam­abad was committed to “continuing such cooperation”.

“No amount of Indian propaganda can succeed in turning this right into a wrong. The government of India should respect international and inter-state norms, respect all religions, especially minorities, and refrain from indulging in pointless provocation which only vitiates an already charged environment to the detriment of all,” the FO observed.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018