Indian concerns about Sikh Yatris rejected

Published February 19, 2021
In this file photo, Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagah Railway Station in Wagah, to celebrate Baisakhi, or the Sikh New Year. – AFP/File
In this file photo, Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive at Wagah Railway Station in Wagah, to celebrate Baisakhi, or the Sikh New Year. – AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday rejected Indian concerns about Sikh Yatris visiting Pakistan for pilgrimage and said that they were fully facilitated during the trips.

“Pakistan provides maximum facilitation to the Sikh Yatris from all over the world, including India, for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan,” FO Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said at the weekly media briefing.

India had disallowed around 600 Sikhs intending to visit Pakistan from Feb 18 to 25 for the 100th anniversary of Saka Nankana Sahib. The group was expected to visit five gurdwaras in Pakistan.

Indian Ministry of Home Affairs had in a letter denying Sikhs permission to undertake the trip said that keeping in view the “capacity of health infrastructure in Pakistan” it could not allow such a large group to tour the country for a week.

The Indian home ministry also expressed concerns about the “safety” of the group because of what it said “considerable threat”.

Mr Chaudhri recalled that Pakistan had opened the largest and the holiest Sikh shrine in Kartarpur Sahib to facilitate Sikh Yatris. “The Sikh as well as the international community, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who while visiting Kartarpur described it as ‘Corridor of Hope’, have immensely appreciated this landmark initiative of Pakistan,” he maintained.

“The Sikh community remains particularly appreciative of the efforts made by Pakistan to complete the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Project in record time and for the excellent arrangements made to facilitate the pilgrims,” he added.

India, the spokesman said, should also facilitate Sikh Yatris for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan.

In reply to a question about the cancellation of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech to Sri Lankan parliament, Mr Chaudhri said: “The two sides are currently working on the elements of the programme of the prime minister’s visit, keeping in view the Covid-19 related health safety protocols.”

His reference to “Covid-19 related health safety protocols” was in itself a confirmation that the speech is no more taking place because the Sri Lankan government had used the pretext of the pandemic to cancel it.

However, diplomatic sources and Sri Lankan media claim the speech was cancelled because of concerns that Mr Khan could raise the Kashmir issue and the plight of Lankan Muslims.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2021

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