The majority of Sikhs has not shown interest in the so called ‘referendum’; many might not even be aware of it. But its damaging potential should not be overlooked. Pakistan will be quite happy to extend a ‘helping hand’ —by way of inciting the visiting Sikhs and other means that it has been using against India for decades. Pakistan’s record of maltreatment of minorities has been well chronicled. Not only the minority Hindu, Sikhs and Christians but even Muslim Ahmedias in Pakistan live in constant danger to their lives and property….writes Kamal Raj Varma
At least twice in the last three months Islamabad has stopped Indian diplomats from meeting Indian citizens—the Sikh ‘Jatthas’ (groups) visiting Sikh shrines in Pakistan. It is not merely pettiness that makes Pakistan to break conventions and agreements with India. There is a design behind its every move. Having stoked the Kashmiri fire, Pakistan thinks it is the right moment to reignite Sikh militancy through direct help and propaganda on occasions like the visit of Sikh pilgrims.
Only a few weeks ago India and Pakistan had agreed not to do anything to ‘harass’ their diplomats in each other’s country. It had raised hopes that the envoys will be able to discharge their duties in a normal way. But how can anyone think it is possible when it involves Pakistan?
In the month of April also, Pakistan had used a ‘security’ excuse to prevent Indian diplomats from meeting the visiting Indians at the same Gurdwara. Why does the Pakistan government fear visits by the Indian envoy outside Islamabad. Some months ago, a scheduled address by him in Karachi was cancelled.
There is no doubt that Pakistan manufactures the ‘anger’ of visiting Sikhs with the help of the resident fugitive Indian (Sikh) militants and the Khalistanis from the West who are welcomed with open arms. Pakistan funds protest demonstrations by Sikhs abroad to embarrass India.
Pakistan’s record of maltreatment of minorities has been well chronicled. Not only the minority Hindu, Sikhs and Christians but even Muslim Ahmedias in Pakistan live in constant danger to their lives and property.
Pakistan has a small Sikh community, mostly in the former NWFP now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the rest is spread in Balochistan and some tribal areas near the Afghan border. Reports of their systematic persecution have appeared in a section of the Pakistan media. Sikh (and Hindu) traders are regularly kidnapped for ransom and many are killed.
Almost the entire Sikh community in tribal areas has been driven away from their homes under the watch of the Pakistani government—and the army– which boasts about cleaning the area of ‘terrorists’. On May 29, a prominent Sikh religious leader, 52-year-old Charanjit Singh, was shot dead in Peshawar.
Pakistan intelligence has given shelter to a number of Khalistanis, and tasked them to plan unrest in India and win over Sikh recruits for serving its nefarious activities in India. Inciting visiting Indian Silks against the Indian government is a primary task of some Pakistani ISI agents. New Delhi is aware of these activities but doesn’t appear to have done anything to take effective steps to counter them.
A young Indian woman from Punjab, Kiran Bala, on a visit to Pakistan with a Sikh Jatthas two months ago had suddenly ‘disappeared’; she was later found to have married a Pakistani after converting to Islam. Now the Indian Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee (SGPC) says it will not allow women below 50 to travel with the Jatthas without clearance from their family.
The SGPC and the government need to work together to ensure that the visit of pilgrims to Pakistan is free of ‘incidents’ like ‘disappearing’ Indians or the envoy being stopped from meeting the Jatthas. The SGPC can, for instance, demand from the Pakistanis or the Pakistani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, which is run by the government, that ISI agents in various garbs should be kept away from Sikh congregations in Pakistani Gurudwaras.
Of late, attempts are being made to revive the Sikh secessionist movement. Anti-India slogans and meetings are being regularly held in some countries in the West. There is talk of the so-called ‘Referendum 2020’ which is an obvious move for a ‘referendum’ seeking a separate ‘homeland’ for the Sikhs.
The majority of Sikhs has not shown interest in ‘referendum’; many might not even be aware of it. But its damaging potential should not be overlooked. Pakistan will be quite happy to extend a ‘helping hand’ —by way of inciting the visiting Sikhs and other means that it has been using against India for decades. Time for India to up the ante against these new games.
India recently summoned Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner in Delhi Syed Haider Shah and lodged a protest. The Indian High Commission in Islamabad also registered a strong protest over the incident. “It has been conveyed to Pakistan side that preventing the Indian High Commission officials from discharging their consular responsibilities is in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and the 1974 bilateral protocol on visit to religious shrines,” a statement by the Indian foreign ministry said.
Such protests will not deter Islamabad from continuing with its deplorable acts, more since its envoy in Delhi has been allowed to visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Pakistan should be sternly warned of retaliatory action.
Basically, the Pakistani action amounts to arbitrary restrictions on a foreign envoy after he or she has been given permission to travel and meet his nationals. It is the duty of an envoy in a foreign land to meet their nationals. Counselor access is provided even to those lodged in jail.
The Pakistanis have got away with the bizarre explanation that the Indian high commissioner was stopped from meeting the visiting Sikh pilgrims because they were seething with anger after the release of a film called Nanak Shah Fakir that allegedly hurt their sentiments! Well, the film had led to some low-key protests in India but how come it was alleged to be a big issue with visiting Sikhs in Pakistan?
To make its action a bit plausible, Pakistan also said that ‘security’ concerns, arising out of alleged ‘maltreatment’ of Sikhs in India, were also taken into consideration to prevent Ajay Bisaria, the high commissioner, from meeting over 300 Indian Sikhs.