In weekly briefing, spokesman dismisses India barring Sikh pilgrims from visiting Pakistan over health infrastructure concerns
Pakistan’s Foreign Office on Thursday said the participation of 42 countries in the Multinational Maritime Exercise Aman-21 reflected the country’s global engagement.
Addressing a weekly press briefing, spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said the exercise—which concluded over the weekend—had manifested Pakistan’s commitment and efforts to achieve regional and global peace. “The Aman-21 exercise has exposed India’s propaganda against Pakistan,” he added.
To a question, he dismissed India barring Sikh pilgrims from visiting religious sites in Pakistan, emphasizing that they were fully facilitated during their visit. “Pakistan provides maximum facilitation to Sikh Yatris from all over the world, including India, for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan,” he said, referring to Delhi barring around 600 Sikhs from visiting Pakistan for the 100th anniversary of Nankana Sahib from Feb. 18-25. The group had been set to visit five gurdwaras in Pakistan.
In a letter announcing its decision, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs had alleged that the trip could not be allowed due to the “capacity of health infrastructure in Pakistan.” It had also claimed there were “considerable threats” and the “safety” of the group might be in danger.
Chaudhri noted that Pakistan had opened the largest and the holiest Sikh shrine in Kartarpur Sahib to facilitate Sikh Yatris. “The Sikh, as well as the international community, including U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres—who while visiting Kartarpur described it as ‘Corridor of Hope’—have immensely appreciated this landmark initiative of Pakistan,” he said. “The Sikh community remains particularly appreciative of the efforts made by Pakistan to complete the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Project in record time and for the excellent arrangements made to facilitate the pilgrims,” he added.
Instead of preventing such trips, said the spokesman, India should facilitate Sikh Yatris in visiting their religious sites in Pakistan.
Sri Lanka visit
To a question about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech to the Sri Lankan parliament being cancelled, Chaudhri said both sides were working on finalizing the modalities of the visit “keeping in view the COVID-19 related health safety protocols.” The Sri Lankan government had earlier claimed the speech was being cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, but diplomatic sources had alleged that it was linked to Khan wanting to raise the Kashmir issue and the plight of Sri Lankan Muslims.
To another question, the spokesman reiterated Pakistan’s desire to see durable peace in Afghanistan. He stressed that Islamabad hoped all stakeholders in Afghanistan would seize the opportunity to achieve long-lasting peace through the ongoing peace process.
During the briefing, Chaudhri reiterated Pakistan’s calls for India to allow U.N. observers, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission, and international media to visit India-held Jammu and Kashmir and independent assess the situation.
He lamented that India only allowed handpicked diplomats to visit the disputed region on guided tours, branding such trips a “smokescreen” to create a false impression of normalcy and divert global attention from Delhi’s egregious human rights violations. “Such visits mean nothing in the absence of access to all the areas and free interaction with the Kashmiri people and the civil society in an atmosphere free of intimidation,” he stressed.
In a separate statement, the Foreign Office lamented that the victims of the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack were still awaiting justice despite the passage of 14 years since the tragic incident. On Feb. 18, 2007, explosions on the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express train had resulted in the death of 68 passengers, including more than 40 Pakistanis.
“Despite the availability of clear evidence, India’s continuing failure to provide justice to the victims of this horrible incident is a reconfirmation of the culture of impunity that the perpetrators of terrorist attacks enjoy in India,” read the statement. It called on India to “fulfill its legal obligation” of bringing the perpetrators of the Samjhauta Express blasts to justice without any further delay.