Who is the unknown Pakistani prisoner incarcerated in a jail in Indian Kashmir since 1965? Does his family still wait for him? Have they long given him up as dead? Did he have children who can today barely remember a father missing for over four-and-a-half decades? We do not know the answers to these questions. But perhaps the Indian Supreme Court’s (SC) intervention in the matter — hearing a petition from a private citizen — will help us answer them. The Indian SC has noted, with shock, that 254 Pakistani nationals remain in jails in Kashmir alone; four of them are women and none have been put on trial and they continue to be held illegally. It is believed many are being punished simply because they made the mistake of crossing the poorly demarcated Line of Control, which divides the Pakistan and Indian portions of Kashmir, accidentally, perhaps while grazing animals or performing errands.
The Indian apex court has sought a detailed report from the government in New Delhi to explain the situation. It also believes there is a possibility Pakistani nationals are held in other states too; this is almost certainly likely to be the case. The fact is we do not really know how many may be suffering in this fashion. What we do know is that this situation has been going on for years — hostility between the two countries, bureaucratic delays and indifference have all played a part in prolonging the suffering of hundreds. Indians held in Pakistan have suffered as well. Just a few days ago, more Indian fishermen were picked up from our waters; it is uncertain how long they will be kept in custody.
The matter needs to be sorted out urgently. Surely, the lives of so many people cannot be allowed to go to waste just because our legal or judicial bureaucracies are not able to keep track of the prisoners in the system. It may well be the case that this may be happening in Pakistan as well, with Indian prisoners languishing in our jails. Either way, one must hope that the Indian Supreme Court’s intervention can lead to the release of all those Pakistanis in Indian jails against whom no charges are pending.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2011.
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