NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD: Facing flak for the vandalism at the Sikh holy shrine ofNankana Sahib,Pakistanon Saturday said the“ altercation ” involved two Muslim groups rather than intimidation of Sikhs inside thegurdwara– an astounding claim in the face of videos of Friday’s incident.
Pakistan said what happened at the birthplace of Guru Nanak involved two Muslim groups and attempts to paint it as communal were “patently motivated”. While India had not officially responded to the Pakistan foreign ministry’s statement till late evening, officials here described it as a blatant lie.
India had on Friday strongly condemned the attack, which saw mobs pelting stones at the gurdwara, apparently in retaliation against Sikhs filing a police complaint over the abduction, forceful conversion and marriage in August last year of Jagjit Kaur, the daughter of a granthi. The mob was led by the brother of the man Kaur was forcibly married to, and who can be heard threatening to evict Sikhs from the shrine.
According to eyewitnesses, the situation turned so tense that the local Sikh population and visiting pilgrims were forced to seek shelter in the gurdwara. A viral video of the event showed the lead instigator demanding justice for his brother, Mohammad Hassan, accused of abducting Kaur. According to Hassan’s family, Kaur “opted” to marry the accused of her own free will and is willing to testify in court.
Interestingly, religious affairs and interfaith harmony minister Noorul Haq Qadri supported the original account of the attack on the gurdwara. He told the media that the protest was organized by Hassan’s family and neighbors, demanding his release from police custody. Qadri slammed India’s attempts to transform an ordinary dispute into an example of communal strife, claiming New Delhi was trying to shift attention from its own domestic unrest.
On the other hand, the Pakistan interior ministry tried to pass off the incident as literally a “fly in a teacup”. According to them, two men, Saqlain andMumtaz Ali, visited a tea shop near the gurdwara and complained of a fly in their tea. In response, the owners – Zaman (Hassan’s uncle), Iftikhar and Adnan (Hassan’s brother) —attacked them, resulting in a scuffle.
Pakistan said the gurdwara remained “untouched and undamaged” and added, “All insinuations to the contrary, particularly the claims of acts of ‘desecration and Destruction ‘and desecration of the holy place, are not only false but also mischievous. ”
Official sources in Delhi said instead of taking firm action against miscreants, Pakistan was trying to give a new and absurd twist to the incident which had hurt Sikhs all over the world. “Can Pakistan also deny videos of people openly abusing Sikhs and threatening to drive them out of Nankana Sahib?” Asked an Indian official.
The incident and the viral videos are a setback to Pakistan’s bid to reach out to Sikhs, stir up the Khalistani cause and create trouble for India. The reports of Jagjit Kaur’s abduction and the mob at Nankana Sahib sits poorly with Pakistan’s efforts to turn Sikh groups against India and it seems to have chosen to pretend that Friday’s incident never happened.
Professing commitment to protecting minorities, Pakistan went on to mention the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, calling it a manifestation ofIslamabad‘s special care extended to minorities.
Pakistan Prime MinisterImran Khan, meanwhile, tweeted an Indian media report in which he alleged police “brutality” had reached new lows and that its “pogrom of Muslims in India continues as part of fascist Modi Govt’sethnic cleansingagenda”. The government sees this as another attempt by Khan in the past hours to divert attention from the developments at Nankana Sahib. Khan had on Friday passed off an old video from Bangladesh as that of police brutality in UP.
On Friday, dozens of angry Muslim protesters converged on Nankana Sahib, pelting theGurdwara Janam Asthanwith stones and threatening to raze it to the ground.
Some media reports suggested that four customers having tea at a stall in front of the gurdwara started a conversation about Hassan, prompting Zaman, his uncle, to react with anger, which led to a confrontation between two groups.