India declines visas to Pakistani pilgrims at eleventh hour

Hundreds applied for visas to attend Hazrat Moenuddin Chishti's (RA) urs that starts on Feb 8

The Indian government refused to issue visas to Pakistani pilgrims on annual urs of Hazrat Moenuddin Chishti Ajmeri (R.A), the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri expressed regret over the move last minute and announced to take it to the foreign ministry level.

The 809th annual urs celebrations of the 13th century sufi saint of Chishti order commonly known as Khawaja Gharib Nawaz would begin on 6th of Rajab (February 8). Hazrat Ajmeri has millions of followers in India and Pakistan. India has typically issued visas to a limited number of his followers from Pakistan every year.

The exact number of applications by Pakistani pilgrims were yet to be known but ministry of religious affairs said the visas were sought from February 3 to 14.

“Indian refusal is beyond understanding. The requests from pilgrims are declined by the Indian embassy at last moment,” said Qadri.

He said the Indian embassy earlier informed the ministry to complete all the arrangements for the departure of pilgrims and issued all the standard operating procedures in view of the COVID-19 situation. The followers, he said, were present in Lahore for departure and came from different areas but they were declined visas at last moment.

“We cannot bear such an ill-treatment with the followers of Hazrat Moenuddin (R.A). We will take the issue at foreign ministry level,” he said, adding Indian government had violated the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines in the name of pandemic.

Qadri reminded the Indian government about Pakistan’s recent steps to allow hundreds of Indian yatrees. He said Pakistan provided full facilitations to Indian pilgrims during their visit and was eager to promote interfaith harmony.

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