New Delhi: India on Friday strongly protested Pakistan's denial of consular access to Sikh pilgrims visiting two gurdwaras there on the occasion of Gurpurab - the 549th birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev.
"India has today (Friday) lodged a strong protest with the government of Pakistan that despite having been granted prior travel permission by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, the consular officials of the High Commission of India in Islamabad were harassed and denied access on Thursday and Friday at Gurdwara Nankana Sahib and Gurudwara Sacha Sauda to the Indian pilgrims visiting Pakistan under the Bilateral Protocol," the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
"As a result of such harassment, they were compelled to return to Islamabad without performing their diplomatic and consular duties vis-a-vis Indian pilgrims.
"We have shared our grave concern that this is the third consecutive visit of the Indian Sikh pilgrims when Pakistan has prevented the Indian High Commission officials from meeting the visiting Indian nationals on the pretext of security in order to deflect attention from Pakistan's violation of the international legal instruments and conventions like the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963."
In April this year and then again in June, Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria and other consular officials were denied access to Sikh pilgrims who were visiting Gurdwara Panja Sahib.
The statement said that this breached the letter and spirit of the 1974 Bilateral Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines signed by the two countries and the 1992 Code of Conduct for the treatment of diplomatic and consular personnel in India and Pakistan.
It said that Pakistan's action was in contrast to India's treatment to their High Commissioner and the consular officials in New Delhi who have been provided full access to meet Pakistani pilgrims who are currently in India on a pilgrimage to Kalyar Sharif.
Friday's development comes after India on Thursday decided to build a corridor from Gurdaspur district in Punjab to Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Kartarpur Sahib is where Guru Nanak died in 1539.
New Delhi urged Islamabad to build the corridor on their side of the International Border and demanded that Sikh pilgrims should be allowed access throughout the year.
India also called for free and readily available consular access for Indian citizens on the Pakistani side.
According to Friday's Ministry statement, India 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".
"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 and endorsed in the Lahore Declaration, 1999.
"Pakistan has been reminded that such actions are not in consonance with the stated intentions of Pakistan to facilitate the visits of Indian Sikh pilgrims, especially as we commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji."