Fifty years after the 1965 war between India and Pakistan ended, dozens of families on both sides of the border are still waiting for their loved ones to come home.
The cause of those who went missing in action is not helped by the fact that the governments of both India and Pakistan claim to have returned all prisoners of war, in accordance with the text of the Tashkent Accord, which stated that all “prisoners of war would be repatriated”. Pakistan Army went so far as to release some photographs of prisoners who were released.
However, as many as 54 Indian and 18 Pakistani PoWs never made it home. Their families have waited for five decades in agony, with governments on both sides denying their existence. But while New Delhi has at least taken up the case of its PoWs allegedly still in Pakistani jails, Islamabad, despite court orders to do so, has largely ignored the fate of its PoWs still in Indian jails.
In an October 2012 letter to the editor in The Express Tribune, Mazhar Iqbal, a Muzaffarabad resident, claimed that at least four Pakistani soldiers who were taken prisoner in the 1965 war were in an Indian jail in Jammu. He said that in 2006, the family of Alam Sher, one of the soldiers, was told by a former militant who spent some time in Indian jails that Sher, along with three other soldiers from the Azad Kashmir Battalion (now the Azad Kashmir Regiment) – Barkat Hussain, Sakhi Muhammad, and Bagga Khan – were in Indian prisons.
The family hired a lawyer in India to file a habeas corpus petition and it was discovered that the four men were indeed in a jail in Jammu. However, the Indian government later denied the existence of these prisoners, which prompted Iqbal to write that letter, asking the Indian Supreme Court to take notice of the matter. The four men in Jammu are not the only Pakistani PoWs allegedly still in Indian jails. In January 2010, a Pakistani prisoner released from an Indian jail said in a televised interview that 18 PoWs from the 1965 war were still in Indian custody. They included Muhammad Ayub, a soldier in the Baloch Regiment from Gujjar Khan. He, along with Lance Naik Abdul Rehman went missing in the Chamb Jorian sector in the 1965 war and was presumed dead. In October 1965, the army sent a letter to their families saying that the soldiers were missing, and on May 24, 1966, told them that they were dead. Then, 44 years after he was told his brother was dead, Muhammad Naseer, brother of Lance Naik Abdul Rehman, watched on television a man claiming that he was still alive.
The Pakistan government, however, does not appear interested in getting Naseer’s brother, or any of the other 17 Pakistani soldiers back from Indian jails, forcing the families to protest outside the National Press Club in Islamabad. In June 2010, then-Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ordered the interior ministry to find more information about those prisoners. The ministry wrote a letter to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, but never received a response.
On the Indian side of the border, Baljir Singh, a retired colonel who fought in the 1965 war, alleged in 2011 in the Indian Defence Review, that “Pakistan even tricked us after ceasefire by not releasing all our PoWs whereas we had released each and every Pakistani PoW.”
In its affidavit, submitted to the Indian Supreme Court in 54 missing 1965 PoWs on August 25, the Indian defence ministry claimed it had taken up the matter with the Pakistan government at all appropriate levels. But the affidavit says that the whereabouts these soldiers are not known. It added that the government will continue with its efforts to raise the issue at all appropriate occasions and levels towards securing their release. It said that the authorities had also been disbursing service and retirement benefits to the next of kin of the 54 missing personnel in accordance with a previous directive by the Gujarat High Court.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2015.
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