ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Tuesday said it was not inciting the Sikh community to intensify the “Khalistan” campaign.

The foreign ministry categorically rejected Indian allegations of “attempts to incite Indian pilgrims” on the issue of “Khalistan”.

By spreading such falsehoods, Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said: “India has chosen to deliberately stoke further controversy around the visit of Sikh pilgrims, currently attending the Baisakhi and Khalsa Janamdin ceremonies in Pakistan.”

Khalistan movement is aimed at creating an independent state for the Sikhs inside the current north-western India, reviving the 18th century state. The previous Sikh Empire had its capital in Lahore. Most of that Sikh state is now part of Pakistan.

Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Azad Jammu Kashmir were part of the Sikh Empire.

Pakistan’s Punjab, the Federally-Administrated Tribal Areas and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were major part of the Sikh Empire founded by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Dr Faisal said Pakistan welcomed Hindu and Sikh pilgrims from all over the world, including India.

“As always, Pakistani authorities have made arrangements to extend maximum facilitation to the visiting Sikh yatrees. The members of the Sikh community appreciate the assistance and cooperation extended to them during their visits to sacred places in Pakistan,” he said.

Faisal said the Sikh community had been protesting against the government of India for screening a controversial movie in India, which hurt their religious sentiments.  “These protests had started in India and other parts of the world before the Sikh yatrees [pilgrims] arrived in Pakistan,” he added.

In view of the charged situation and the explicit refusal of the Sikh yatrees to meet Indian officials, he said, Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria cancelled his visit on April 14.

“Indian attempts to distort the truth and obfuscate facts are unethical and regrettable,” he contended.

The spokesperson said: “It is ironic that the country whose highest officials are on record for statements against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan choose to indulge in blatant hypocrisy by twisting facts.”

Faisal said: “We remain committed to continuing such cooperation, which is in line with our religious ethos, traditions of hospitality, and provisions of the 1974 Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines. No amount of Indian propaganda could succeed in turning this right into a wrong.”

The Government of India, he said, “should respect international and inter-state norms, respect all religions, especially minorities, and refrain from indulging in pointless provocation, which only vitiates an already charged environment to the detriment of all.

India on Monday summoned Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi and lodged a strong protest over attempts to raise the Khalistan issue during the visit of Sikh pilgrims to that country, while asking Islamabad to immediately cease all such activities aimed at undermining India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Tensions between Pakistan and India have been high since the killing of a Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani in July 2016. An attack on Indian forces in September 2016 - that killed 19 soldiers in Uri area of held Kashmir - further heightened the tensions. India also claimed it had carried a “surgical strike” to avenge the Uri attack. Pakistan rejected the Indian claim.

Pakistan is active to de-escalate tension with India as Islamabad plans to host a group of Indian doctors to treat Indian prisoners detained here.

India had proposed that a group of 20 doctors be allowed a visit to Pakistan to examine women, children, elderly and mentally-unsound prisoners.

The two countries have already agreed for the release of these prisoners.