All too often, we end up judging the state of Pakistan-India relations through metrics like economics and politics, forgetting that the enmity between the two countries has consequences that have destroyed the lives of thousands of people. Dr Syed Mohammed Khalil Chishty, until very recently, was one of those who had slipped through the cracks — a victim of the double standards that Pakistan and India hold for the citizens of the other country. A virologist in his 80s who hails from Karachi, Chishty was sentenced to life imprisonment in India for allegedly murdering a family member with his trial lasting 18 years. In a sign of improving relations between India and Pakistan, Chishty was released by the Indian Supreme Court on humanitarian grounds some time back and has now been allowed to visit Pakistan on the condition that he return to India by November 1 for the appeal hearing of his case. This will, hopefully, signal a new era in the way the two countries treat prisoners from the other side.
Dr Chishty’s case was a relatively straightforward one because of his age and health but there are hundreds of other similar cases on both sides of the border. Both countries have fishermen languishing in jails for years for the simple crime of crossing an unmarked border. Often, these fishermen are not allowed consular access and are not even charged with any crime. Now that the two countries are slowly inching towards peace, there is no greater step they can take to demonstrate this new era of relations than releasing all those people who are being held for simple border violations.
Neither country is more culpable than the other in this regard; both have treated prisoners from the other country in an uncaring manner. Releasing each others’ prisoners will engender massive amounts of goodwill. Above all, it will demonstrate that peace talks have a human dimension that transcends matters of trade and economics.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2012.
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