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Pakistan voices disappointment as India cancels pilgrim visas

Saturday, 3 May 2014 - 9:30am IST | Place: Islamabad | Agency: IANS

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In a last minute decision, India cancelled the visit of a group of 500 Pakistani pilgrims to the Ajmer shrine for Urs, citing the ongoing general elections. An upset Pakistan summoned the Indian deputy high commissioner in Islamabad on Friday to lodge a protest.

In a statement in New Delhi, India on Friday expressed disappointment at having to cancel the visit of Pakistani pilgrims to attend the annual Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer May 1-12 this year, saying the visit of a large group of pilgrims at the time of the general elections would have required much more elaborate arrangements than what is usually done for such events.

External Affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the move to cancel the visit was "a last moment decision". He expressed his regret, saying, "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." He added, "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... A visit of such large group of saireens from Pakistan would have required much more elaborate arrangements than what is usually done for such events."

Akbarrudin said all government agencies, including railway authorities, had made full arrangements to transport over 500 pilgrims from Pakistan from Attari railway station to Ajmer and back. He said India has always cherished age-old cultural and civilisational links 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.

In Islamabad, Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gopal Baglay was summoned to Pakistan's foreign office and conveyed Islamabad's deep disappointment and concern" over the denial of visas by India – the fourth time in the last one year, according to a Pakistan foreign office statement.

Pakistan said the "visits to religious shrines in Pakistan and India were governed under the Bilateral Protocol on Visits to the Religious Shrines, 1974". "The foreign office conveyed its deep disappointment and concern over the denial of visas by the Indian government. This is the fourth time that visas have been denied to Pakistani pilgrims in the last one year."

Pakistan said that the move "was not only against the bilateral agreement, but also runs contrary to the efforts towards normalising ties between the two countries and the spirit of people-to-people contacts".

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