Government says no foreign delegation was permitted to visit Golden Temple since Sunday was being observed as the martyrdom day of a Sikh guru
Heart of Asia delegates at Harmandr Sahib
Amritsar, 5 December 2016. India on Sunday clarified that foreign delegations, including one from Pakistan that wanted to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, were not permitted since Sunday was being observed as the martyrdom day of a Sikh guru and the religious site would be crowded with devotees.
The clarification became necessary after rumours that Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, was deliberately not given security cover by the Indian authorities to visit the Golden Temple complex.
“Visits to the Golden Temple by VVIPs (very very important persons i.e, dignitaries) and VIPs (very important persons) attending the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Amritsar today (Sunday) were initially envisaged for 4 December,” a person familiar with the developments said, requesting anonymity.
“However, in addition to being a Sunday, today on 4 December, Guru Teg Bahadur’s Martyrdom Day was also observed. Apart from difficulties in ensuring security of VVIPs and VIPs, their visit to Golden Temple would have caused inconvenience to a large number of devotees,” the person said.
“Hence two rounds of visits to Golden Temple by VVIPs and VIPs were organised yesterday (Saturday),” the person added.
“Pakistan delegation’s request for visit to Golden Temple today (Sunday) was carefully looked into. Given the aforementioned factors, and it was not found feasible to organise adequate security for the delegation at a short notice,” the person said.
Earlier in the day, speculation was rife that Aziz, who is representing Pakistan at the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial meeting, was to visit the Golden Temple and his visit was not cleared by the Indian authorities as there was concern that Aziz would speak to the Indian media.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been running high for several months over the Kashmir dispute and bilateral relations are at a low currently due to several terrorist attacks in India in the past few months and almost continuous shelling across the line of control.
Talks between the two countries have been suspended since 2013 and several attempts to restart them have ended in failure.
India and Afghanistan on Sunday slammed Pakistan for its support to cross-border terrorism in their remarks at the opening session of the Heart of Asia conference ministerial conference, with finance minister Arun Jaitley saying that terrorism occupied centrestage at the deliberations.
Given this, it is being speculated that allowing Aziz to meet the press in Amritsar could have shifted the focus away from the Heart of Asia conference to India-Pakistan bilateral problems.
India had organised a visit to the Golden Temple for officials attending the Heart of Asia conference on Saturday. Later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, also visited the Golden Temple.
In another development, Pakistan’s high commissioner to India Abdul Basit was seen engaged in an altercation with Indian police officials in Amritsar as he tried to speak to journalists at the Heart of Asia conference venue on Sunday.
Basit was seen in a short video clip as telling an Indian police official that he could not stop him from talking to Pakistani journalists who had come with Aziz for the Heart of Asia conference.
In the video clip, the Indian police official is heard telling Basit that he could not hold a press conference at a particular place and Basit was heard responding that since they were Pakistani journalists, it was incorrect of the official to stop him. “These are my people and I can speak to them anytime,” an angry Basit was heard as saying.