Diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan aggravated on Monday with Islamabad protesting against the denial of visas to over 500 pilgrims searching to visit Ajmer Sharif and India saying “prevailing circumstances” and absence of security clearances were the reasons for its decision.
While not denying that visas had been withheld, an official source said, “Such visits are expedited and promoted following due procedures. However, from time to time, such visits cannot take place in view of prevailing circumstances and absence of security clearances. There have been instances in the past when such visits did not take place from both sides.”
The Pakistan foreign office said, “Pakistan notes with deep disappointment the non-issuance of visas by India for the visit of 503 Pakistani zaireen (pilgrims) to compete in the urs of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif, India, from 19-29 March 2018.”
India’s move a fallout of Pakistan shelling, envoy harassment
The decision not to grant visas indicates India is ready to suspend travel, usually seen as component of “people-to-people” contact and a consideration extended to visits to places of religious significance, in view of allegations of harassment of diplomatic staff and shelling of civilian areas in Jammu & Kashmir by the Pakistani army.
In its statement, Pakistan said due to India’s decision, Pakistani pilgrims have been destitute of the opportunity to participate in the urs, which is of special significance. Foreign office agent Muhammad Faisal said 192 Pakistani pilgrims could not participate in the urs of Hazrat Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi in January this year due to non-issuance of visas.
Temperatures have been rising with India and Pakistan at loggerheads in the past month as both sides traded charges of diplomats and mission officials being harassed in each other’s capitals. Pakistan brought the problem out in the open with its complaints last month and several notes verbale have been issued by India.
The ministry of external affairs summoned Pakistan deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah to lodge a protest “at the loss of lives of five innocent Indian civilians (a family comprising of husband, wife and three children) and grievous injuries to two other minor children in unprovoked ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces on 18 March in Bhimber Gali sector across the Line of Control in J&K”.
Making its outrage clear, India said that “the careful targeting of innocent civilians, who are located two kilometres away from the forward line of defences, by Pakistan forces utilizing high-calibre weapons is highly deplorable and is condemned in the strongest terms”. Pakistan criticised India for not giving visas to its pilgrims, saying: “Besides being violative of the bilateral protocol of 1974 and the basic human right to religious freedom, such measures also undermine the efforts aimed at improving the environment and normalising relations between the two nations.”