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India denies visa to 75 pilgrims, Pakistan protests

NEW DELHI: Amid mounting uncertainty over whether the foreign secretary dialogue will take place later this week, Delhi and Islamabad were left battling another controversy over denial of visas to 75 Pakistani pilgrimsAccording to Pakistan, the pilgrims, who wanted to visit the Hafiz Abdullah Shah shrine in Agra, had already assembled in Lahore on Saturday when they were told by Indian authorities that they were not going to get visas.

Pakistan protested India's decision, saying the denial was "inconsistent" with the 1974 bilateral protocol on visits to religious shrines by pilgrims from either country. According to Indian authorities, the issue was related to this shrine in particular only as there was no organising committee there to give guarantee for the Pakistani visitors. "These pilgrims were travelling to attend annual gathering of Hafiz Abdullah Shah shrine near Agra from 11-18 January. Pakistan has been issuing visas to Indian pilgrims in accordance with the protocol," said a Pakistani official.

Indian officials said under the protocol on visits to shrines, an organising committee member or local authorities are required to extend logistical support to the visitors and give an undertaking that they will not use the visa to visit any other place. They said the decision had nothing to do with the uncertainty over FS dialogue in the wake of the Pathankot attack
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