Pakistan’s bar on Indian consular officials visiting Sikh pilgrims slightly mars spirit of bonhomie

Pakistan’s bar on Indian consular officials visiting Sikh pilgrims slightly mars spirit of bonhomie

New Delhi November 23 (The Hindu/The Express Tribune): While at one level Indian and Pakistani governments have expressed happiness about the opening of a route to a historic Sikh shrine in Kartarpur in Pakistan, New Delhi on Friday strongly protested against its diplomats being prevented from meeting the Indian pilgrims.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a press release that Pakistan denied the diplomats from performing their duties despite earlier having committed to provide them access to the pilgrims.

The protest came a day after both sides agreed to open a cross-border corridor for devotees to visit the famed Sikh temple at Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab.

“We have also expressed grave concern at the reports of attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Indian pilgrims to Pakistan, to incite communal disharmony and intolerance and promote secessionist tendencies with the objective of undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the MEA.

Pakistan has issued around 3,700 visas to Sikh pilgrims from India for the festivities that will cover Nankana Sahib and Gurdwara Sacha Sauda.

Contrasting Treatment

India maintained that Pakistan’s treatment of the Indian consular officials is in contrast to the treatment that India has accorded to the Pakistani diplomats, who were allowed to meet with the Pakistani pilgrims visiting Kalyar Sharif.

“Pakistan has been called upon to take all measures to not allow its territory to be used for any hostile propaganda and support for secessionist tendencies against India in keeping with the commitments made under the Simla Agreement, 1972,” said the MEA.

The statement reflects India’s concerns that came to the forefront after a grenade attack in Punjab earlier this week was traced allegedly to Pakistani sources.

Pakistan and India have decided to open the Kartarpur border corridor to facilitate Sikh pilgrims visiting one of their holiest sites on the banks of River Ravi in a move that analysts say might thaw the frosty relationship between the two neighbors.

Sikh pilgrims from India arrive in Pakistan

Pakistan Welcomes Indian Pilgrims

New Delhi announced on Wednesday that it would start construction of the Kartarpur corridor up to the international border with Pakistan. The announcement was immediately welcomed by Islamabad as ‘victory for peace’.

The Indian move came nearly three months after Pakistan’s army chief had offered to open the route to facilitate Sikh pilgrims. General Qamar Javed Bajwa told India’s cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu at the inauguration of Prime Minister Imran Khan on August 18 that Pakistan was ready to open the route to Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur for Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary.

The decision to open the Kartarpur corridor was taken by India’s Union Cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “In landmark decision, the cabinet approves building and development of Kartarpur corridor from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to International border,” India’s Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh wrote on Twitter.

“The Kartarpur corridor project with all modern amenities and facilities to be implemented with the central government funding,” he added. “The corridor will provide smooth and easy passage to pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib throughout the year.”

Interestingly, the offer to open the Kartarpur corridor was made by Gen Qamar, Rajnath said that the “the government of Pakistan will be urged to reciprocate and develop a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory”.

Notwithstanding, Pakistani government officials immediately welcomed New Delhi’s announcement. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called it “victory of peace”, while Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan would break ground on the corridor.

“Indian cabinet’s endorsement of Pakistan’s proposition on Kartarpur border opening is a victory for the peace lobby in both countries. It’s a step towards the right direction and we hope such steps will encourage the voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border,” Chaudhry wrote on his official Twitter handle.

Qureshi said Islamabad has already conveyed its decision of opening the corridor to Delhi. “Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpur corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary,” he said on the social networking site. “Prime Minister Imran Khan will do groundbreaking at Kartarpur facilities on 28th November. We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion.”

Foreign policy and defense analysts welcomed the move which, according to them, will help build confidence on both sides of the border.

“I think the opening of the border will increase a feeling of goodwill that the Sikh community has toward Pakistanis in general, and may contribute towards some short-term gains in the relations between the two countries,” Lt Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib told The Express Tribune by phone.

However, he cautioned that the move should be taken with a pinch of salt. “I believe the Indians have decided to open this border purely for security reasons, as Delhi doesn’t want to further alienate the Sikhs community,” Lt Gen Shoaib said.

The Modi government has treated the Sikhs with suspicion, despite the fact that the community members occupy important positions within the state apparatus. “I think the Indians merely caved in to the pressure created by Pakistan by taking the initiative,” he added.

Brigadier (retd) Nadir Mir, who heads the Pakistan National Reform Movement, also welcomed the move but said it might not help with the normalisation process between the two countries. “Pakistan and India already have the border crossing at Wagah open, and opening another border will not mean much if India’s aggression in Kashmir does not stop,” Brig Mir told The Express Tribune.

He further said that Islamabad has always taken initiative to normalise ties, but these moves were seldom reciprocated by New Delhi. “Every effort to defuse tensions and improve bilateral relations comes from the Pakistani side. It takes two to tango,” he added.
Sikh leaders welcomed the move as a dream come true.

Sardar Tara Singh, the chief of Pakistan Sikh Gurdwaras Parbandhak Committee, credited the civil and military leaders for the opening of Kartarpur corridor. “India has finally accepted the longstanding demand of the Sikh community,” he told The Express Tribune. However, he hoped that the Indian government would not backtrack on this promise

Another Sikh leader, Sardar Bishan Singh, said the decision has won the hearts of the Sikh community worldwide, while former provincial lawmaker Sardar Ramesh Singh said this news had made Sikhs happy beyond measure. “The day has come when the dream of the Sikh community is coming true,” he added.

According to officials, while a date for beginning the construction has not been set, the Pakistani government wants the announcement to coincide with the arrival of Sikh pilgrims, who are currently in the country to observe the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji.

(The featured pictures shows Indian Sikh pilgrims going to board a train to Nankana Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan)