The foreign ministry has told the Supreme Court that around 170,000 people have been brought back from Bangladesh and the non-Bengalis remaining there are now the responsibility of the Bangladeshi government.
The top court will today (Tuesday) resume the hearing of a petition filed by Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee of Bangladesh regarding the repatriation of Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh since its independence in 1971.
On Monday, a report submitted to the top court on behalf of the foreign office (FO) by Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood stated there were around 400,000 to 500,000 Biharis still residing in Bangladesh.
“There is a difference of opinion on their repatriation. A large number of them do not want to be sent to Pakistan,” claims the report, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
On August 28, 1973, Pakistan and India in concurrence with Bangladesh had signed an agreement in New Delhi on the repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian internees. On April 9, 1974, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh signed a tripartite agreement also.
Since then, the report states, the cabinet division has facilitated the repatriation of more than 170,000 Biharis, prior to the decisions of the Bangladesh top court.
The FO, while attaching copies of the Bangladesh Supreme Court’s May 2003 and May 2008 verdicts, wrote the court ruled that Biharis were also the citizens of Bangladesh and were eligible and entitled to be enrolled as voters in electoral rolls in the country. In December 2008 and January 2014 general elections, a large number of Biharis cast their votes while many of them have acquired Bangladeshi passports also.
“Pakistan considers the plight of the non-Bengalis a humanitarian issue and has been providing assistance to Biharis,” clarifies the report.
As per rules and regulations, repatriation of civilians and civil internees from India, Bangladesh and those stranded in Nepal or other foreign countries falls within the cabinet division’s ambit.
Earlier, the interior ministry had told the court the foreign ministry was better positioned to respond regarding the repatriation of 300,000 Pakistanis living in 70 camps in Bangladesh.
The reply, however, stated that under the rules of Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951, all people residing in territories, which constituted East Pakistan before December 16, 1971, either voluntarily or otherwise shall cease to be citizens of Pakistan. People, who have not been repatriated before March 18, 1978, the date of amendment of the rule and whose repatriation has been agreed by the federal government shall continue to be citizens of Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2015.