It was a historic day for Pakistan-India relations, and perhaps a symbol of hope for the hundreds of prisoners languishing on both sides of the border indefinitely – scenes of jubilation were witnessed at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad and Dr Khalil Chisty’s home in Karachi as he finally crossed the border.
After twenty years of incarceration in Rajasthan’s Ajmer Jail, Dr Chishty arrived in Pakistan from India late Tuesday night. The 82-year-old virologist was brought back in a special plane sent by President Asif Ali Zardari.
While not completely free, Dr Chishty will remain in Pakistan until his November 1, 2012 hearing in the Indian Supreme Court. He was welcomed at the airport by Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Port and Shipping Minister Babar Ghauri at 11:25pm, from where he was driven in a Mercedes car to the President House with official protocol. Local Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders and activists showered rose petals on him.
President Zardari had discussed Dr Chishty’s case with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his recent visit to Ajmer.
Chishty was recently released from Ajmer Jail after being sentenced to a life imprisonment term in a murder case. The Indian SC granted bail on April 9 to the virologist and allowed him to visit Pakistan for a temporary stay on May 10.
“I am happy that I am going to my homeland to meet my family and friends. I would like to offer a thanksgiving prayer as soon as I reach the airport and then I will go to my home,” he told reporters at Jaipur railway station.
In Karachi, his family was seen waiting for his arrival, anxious and excited in a house decorated with lights in celebration. While talking to a private news channel, his daughter, Farah, said “It is a miracle. We have been waiting since morning for his return and now we will spend the whole night waiting for his arrival tomorrow. We have made his favourite food.” His grandchildren, several of whom he has never seen, appeared just as eager to meet their grandfather.
A special leave petition against Dr Chishty’s conviction is pending in the Indian Supreme Court while a clemency petition is pending before the Rajasthan governor.
The octogenarian was visiting his ailing mother in Ajmer in 1992 when he got embroiled into a family feud that led to the death of one of his relatives. He has been in Ajmer since, incarcerated at his ancestral home for eighteen years before being jailed following his conviction in January last year.
The teary-eyed Pakistani added that he would also go to Lahore to meet Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national facing a death sentence on charges of involvement in bomb blasts in Pakistan. Sarabjit has been languishing in prison in Lahore for the last 22 years. Diplomatic efforts are on to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment.
Dr Chishty completed his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1968 in Public Health Virology. “Inasmuch as we have posted the appeal for final disposal on 20th November, 2012, we permit him to visit his country, namely, Pakistan and return back to India positively by 1st November, 2012. As soon as he reaches his native country he has to surrender his passport with the Indian High Commission, Islamabad,” the Indian SC said in its verdict on the case.
Talking to media earlier on Tuesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said President Zardari played a pivotal role in the release of Dr Chishty during his recent visit to India. “President Zardari has been very kind to send his plane to New Delhi on the request of the Indian government to bring back Dr Chishty home,” he emphasised. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN KARACHI)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.