India on Friday said the cancellation of visa of 500 Pakistani pilgrims was done as a measure of abundant precaution to ensure their safety and welfare, within hours after its Deputy High Commissioner was summoned in Islamabad in this regard.
Reacting to the "last-minute cancellation" of the visit of the pilgrims from Pakistan to attend the annual Urs at Ajmer Sharif, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson said India is in the midst of general elections and a visit of such a large group of Zaireens would have required much more elaborate arrangements than what are usually done for such events.
"Regrettably, it was not possible for Pakistani Zaireens to attend the annual Urs of Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Hasen Saheb Chisty 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 said.
Pakistan today summoned Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gopal Baghlay to lodge a protest over denial of visas to 500 Pakistani pilgrims to visit the revered shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer.
The spokesperson said "India has always cherished these age-old cultural and civilizational linkages that exist across our borders amongst all countries of our unique sub-continent, and will always nurture these links for the benefit of future generations".
"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.
Pakistan conveyed its deep disappointment and concern over the denial of visas by the Indian government, a statement released by the Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad said.
Urs is an annual festival held at Ajmer Sharif shrine to commemorate the death anniversary of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti.