The Indian government apologised on Saturday for turning away dozens of Pakistani pilgrims who wanted to attend the annual Urs of revered Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer Sharif on May 1 to May 12 this year.
On Friday, Pakistan summoned Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gopal Baghlay to lodge a protest over denial of visas to 500 Pakistani pilgrims to visit the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.
“India has always cherished these age-old cultural and civilisational linkages that exist across our borders amongst all countries of our unique subcontinent, and will always nurture these links for the benefit of future generations,” Indian ministry of external affairs spokesperson S Akbaruddin said on Saturday.
“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 added.
Visits to religious shrines in Pakistan and India are governed under the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to the Religious Shrines, 1974.
Pakistan conveyed its deep disappointment and concern over the denial of visas by the Indian government, said a statement released by Pakistan’s Foreign Office in Islamabad.
In response, the Indian government said, “It is true that this was a last moment decision, all government agencies, including our railway authorities, had made full arrangements to transport over 500 Zaireens (pilgrims) from Pakistan from the Attari railway station to Ajmer and back. [However] India is in the midst of the general elections. A visit of such a large group of Zaireens from Pakistan would have required much more elaborate arrangements than what is usually done for such events”.
“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,” said Akbaruddin.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 4th, 2014.
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