Posters of “Sikh referendum: 2020 Khalistan” in gurdwaras in Pakistan, which are being visited by Indian pilgrims, have angered India, and prompted South Block to summon Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner in Delhi, Syed Haider Shah and lodge a protest.
Sources told The Indian Express that Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria was prevented from going to these gurdwaras over the weekend, and Indian diplomats were again prevented on Monday from meeting these pilgrims.
The issue of Sikh referendum has been a sore point for Indian diplomats in Canada, UK, US, Germany, Australia among several countries, where pro-Khalistan groups have been calling for a referendum.
“But we have photographs to prove that Pakistan authorities are trying to incite Sikh pilgrims and interfere in our internal affairs,” a South Block source told The Indian Express. These photographs have been shared with Pakistan’s deputy envoy in Delhi.
This is turning out to be a potential new flashpoint between New Delhi and Islamabad, weeks after both sides decided to resolve the crisis arising out of harassment and intimidation of diplomats and their families.
The Ministry of External affairs said in a statement on Monday, “The Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan was summoned today and a strong protest lodged at attempts being made during the ongoing visit of the Sikh pilgrims from India to Pakistan to raise the issue of ‘Khalistan’ by making inflammatory statements and displaying posters at various places of pilgrims visit in Pakistan.
“Pakistan was called upon to immediately stop all such activities that were aimed at undermining India’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and incitement of disharmony in India,” the MEA statement said.
“It was conveyed that such repeated attempts by authorities and entities in Pakistan to extend support to secessionist movements in India amount to interference in the internal affairs of India. Moreover, such incidents during the visit of the Indian pilgrims went against the spirit of the bilateral Protocol of 1974 governing the exchange of visits of pilgrims between the two countries,” the MEA said.
This comes a day after India lodged a strong protest with Islamabad for preventing visiting Sikh pilgrims from meeting Indian diplomats and consular teams in Pakistan. The MEA, in a statement on Sunday, said the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan was also “compelled to return” while he was on his way to meet the pilgrims.
The MEA said that on Saturday, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, who was scheduled to visit Gurdwara Panja Sahib at the invitation of the Chairman of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), was “suddenly asked to return while en route to the shrine, for unspecified ‘security’ reasons”. “The High Commissioner, who was to greet Indian pilgrims on the occasion of Baisakhi, was thus compelled to return without meeting Indian citizens,” it said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman had on Sunday rejected the allegations as “baseless”.