India and Pakistan locked horns on Friday over 500 Pakistani pilgrims being denied visas to visit the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. While Pakistan lodged a protest by summoning the Indian deputy high commissioner in Islamabad, New Delhi said they took the decision in view of the “safety” of these pilgrims.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said since India is in the midst of its general elections, a visit of a large group of Zaireen (pilgrims) would have required more elaborate arrangements than usual. He said the decision was taken as a “measure of abundant precaution”, aimed at ensuring the safety and welfare of the pilgrims.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan summoned Indian deputy high commissioner Gopal Baglay to lodge a protest over the denial of visas. A Pakistan Foreign Office statement said Pakistan conveyed its deep disappointment and concern. This is the fourth time that visas have been denied to Pakistani pilgrims in the past one year, it said.
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This is not only against the bilateral agreement, but also runs contrary to the efforts towards normalising ties between the two countries and the spirit of people-to-people contacts, the Pakistan Foreign office added.
In response, Akbaruddin said, “Regrettably, it was not possible for Pakistani Zaireen to attend the annual Urs of Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Hasen Saheb Chisti at Ajmer Sharif (May 1-12) this year.”
“It is true that this was a last moment decision, all government agencies including our Railway authorities had made full arrangement to transport over 500 Zaireens from Pakistan from Attari railway station to Ajmer and back,” he added.
“We are most certainly disappointed that this year pilgrims from Pakistan were unable to attend the Urs at what is one of the holiest shrines of our region. But this was a measure of abundant precaution, aimed at ensuring safety and welfare of the pilgrims which,I think, should always be our priority,” he said.
Visits to religious shrines in Pakistan and India are governed under the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to the Religious Shrines, 1974. Every year, hundreds of people from Pakistan visit the Sufi shrine in Ajmer in Rajasthan, which is revered by people across the subcontinent.