governments lack political will”
offence, severe repercussions
We probably didn’t need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don’t matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, ‘vice versa’ sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were released after the talks. It is the faces of these released prisoners on our television screens and in the next day’s newspapers that shock us into doing this Special Report. The news presenters do not need to state the obvious but they do; majority of these prisoners have lost their mental balance, they announce in a mechanical way.
Beyond these news-making decisions (of releasing a few prisoners here and there) which are received with indifference at best, the process goes on, slowly, reported in a piecemeal fashion and hence failing to make an impact. We don’t know if the news that Sarabjit, the Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan, is going to meet his sister after 21 years is part of the process that goes on in the background or is a corollary of the foreign secretary level talks.
Judging by the ordeal that his sister Dalbir Singh had to go through once in Pakistan clearly shows it is part of the process where not even an inch is granted with ease. Dalbir, who was here to meet her brother as the purpose stated on her visa, was refused permission to meet him and had to file a writ petition in the Lahore High Court to do so. Yes, it is as absurd as this.
Talking of courts, the prisoners in these two countries are made to stay in jails even after they have completed sentences on the largely cooked up charges. The Indian Supreme Court took the lead in asking the government to expedite the release of such prisoners. According to Mr Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, member Pakistani-India joint judicial committee on prisoners, the Supreme Court in Pakistan has also taken some good decisions with regard to detainees.
The vice-versa mantra has worked to the advantage of prisoners in another way. Activists and lawyers in the two countries have been working for prisoners of the other country and have managed to help release quite a few of them. All praise to them.
The prisoners’ tales are long and harrowing. Newspaper reports alone will not make the impact the way films like Veer Zaara, Ramchand Pakistani and Mammo will. Will the television images of these deranged released people shake our artistes and writers? We believe they should.
On the wrong side of the border
Such is the level of trust between the two countries that the slightest of attempts to facilitate an accused can earn one the title of a traitor
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Y ou are a spy, a terrorist or a saboteur until proven otherwise. This may be the situation confronting a Pakistani visitor to India or an Indian visitor to Pakistan apprehended for violating certain rules spelt out for them. On many an occasion, the visitors have been sent behind bars just for being at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
The level of trust between the two countries is so low that the slightest of attempts to facilitate an accused can earn one the title of a traitor. As a matter of practice, the accused are tried and left to rot in jails and their misery worsens when their respective governments show reluctance to take up their cases.
The number of those prisoners who have completed their sentence but are still awaiting release is also quite high. One reason for the delay in their release is the inability of the detainees to prove their nationality.
Both the Indian and Pakistani governments have been accusing each other of not disclosing the exact number of such prisoners in their custody. India even believes there are several Prisoners of War (PoWs) — from the 1971 war — in Pakistani jails. Pakistan, on the other hand, has similar claims about its citizens’ undisclosed detention by India.
In the backdrop of this bleak situation, there appeared a glimmer of hope when Pakistan and India signed an Agreement on Consular Access to each other’s prisoners in May 2008. Under the agreement, both the countries were required to exchange lists of prisoners in their custody on January 1 and July 1 respectively each year.
It was hoped the agreement would help remove hurdles faced by detainees in getting legal aid and proving their identities, and securing their release if declared innocent or on completion of their sentence.
While the convention is there, complaints about prisoners being denied consular access are on the increase. The apprehensions of ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the issue are on record. Last year, Shah alleged that under the said agreement India had (till then) freed only 157 Pakistani prisoners whereas Pakistan had allowed 562 Indian prisoners to return home.
Nationals of both these countries have been detained on myriad charges including straying into foreign land without legal travel documents. Mere stepping over the boundary line, even by error, can land the trespasser into the biggest trouble of his lifetime. He can be declared a potential terrorist or a spy rightaway.
There is no strict categorisation of these prisoners, says Rao Abid Hamid of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), adding that a person accused of one crime can also be implicated in others.
“Both the governments are not interested in pursuing the cases of their nationals and immediately disown those being tried on espionage charges. The bureaucratic hassles and costs are such that families get tired easily and give up quite early,” he adds.
Rao, who has played an instrumental role in the release of several such prisoners, tells TNS that mere establishment of a detainee’s nationality becomes a huge task. The hassles the relatives of a prisoner in the other country have to go through are countless and cannot be explained in words.
Rao says it is very difficult to get a visa in the first place, and once it’s secured the relatives have to spend heavy amounts on travelling, lodging and hiring lawyers. “The visas are for limited periods, meaning the whole process has to be repeated again and again.”
According to Rao, the Indo-Pak Joint Judicial Commission on prisoners raised great expectations but unfortunately the results have not been satisfactory. The recommendations made by the Commission have not been honoured by the two governments, he claims. The Commission has visited designated prisons in both the countries and met the inmates who mostly complain against non-perusal of their cases by their governments.
Advocate Awais Sheikh, lawyer of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan, tells TNS that Dalbir Singh, sister of Sarabjit, came to Lahore on June 5 but was not allowed permission to meet her brother even after 10 days.
“It was strange, keeping in view the fact that she had clearly stated this as the purpose of her visa.” The other members of Sarabjit’s family including his wife and daughters had been denied visa by the Pakistani High Commission in India.
Awais says he submitted a request with the ministry long before Dalbir’s arrival in Pakistan, but to no avail. Finally, a writ petition was submitted in the Lahore High Court (LHC) by LHC CJ Ijaz Chaudhry, whereby Dalbir was allowed to meet her brother twice during her stay in Lahore.
Awais says it was quite difficult for him to pursue the case of Sarabjit initially. “I was asked by the owner of my office to vacate it as he feared some agitators could set it on fire. It took me some time to convince people I was pursuing a case simply on humanitarian grounds.”
A letter by a Pakistani prisoner in India, provided to TNS by HRCP, highlights another issue. The jail inmate has urged the Commission to persuade Pakistani government to pursue his case otherwise he would have to undergo multiple detentions even after the completion of his sentence.
What happens in such cases is that prisoners can be detained further under Article 109 of CrPc of India. The said article allows detention of a person accused of healing his presence in an area, especially when there is reason to believe that he is doing so with a view to committing a cognisable offence and so on.
Rao says hundreds of Pakistanis and Indians have expired in jails due to these indefinite detentions. “You would be shocked to hear that the ashes of around 60 Indian prisoners are lying in our jails. The situation is no different in India where the remains of Pakistani prisoners have got a similar treatment.”
Development on any issue involving both the countries is based on the principle of reciprocity. A single ‘unwanted’ move by one country can lead to derailment of the whole process and evoke a tit-for-tat reaction from the other country.
The latest has been the case with Dr Khaleel Chishti, an 80-year-old microbiologist from Karachi. Chishti went to India 20 years ago and was implicated in a murder case. He has been in a jail in Ajmer since then, although the charge could not be proved. Now, as the Rajasthan government considers his mercy plea, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad has already called for the release of Sarabjit Singh in exchange.
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
The maritime boundary between India and Pakistan remains disputed nearly 64 years after the partition of the Indian sub-continent. The demarcation of Sir Creek (locally known as Baan Ganga) — a 96-kilometre strip of water in the Rann of Kutch marshlands, which separates the Indian state of Gujarat from Pakistan’s Sindh province and opens into the Arabian Sea remains another bone of contention between the two neighbouring South Asian countries.
This issue was well on its way to being resolved by May 2009, the deadline set by the two countries 10 years ago. Then the Mumbai terrorist attacks happened on Nov 26, 2008, after which the Composite Dialogue series aimed at confidence-building measures (CBMs) between the two countries, which began in February 2004, were stalled.
A blow to the disruption in the CBMs has been the issue of the capture of small fishermen who stray into each other’s waters and languish in prison long after they have completed their sentence.
Heart-wrenching stories abound on both sides of the border but the two governments remain callously apathetic. The release of prisoners is dependent on the love-hate relationship between the two countries at any given time.
TNS talks to Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, one of the members of the Pakistan-India Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners to find out why this 20-year old issue remains unresolved.
The News on Sunday: When was the judicial committee formed and what does it do in resolving the issue of Indian and Pakistani prisoners in general?
Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid: The Indo-Pak judicial committee on prisoners was formed in 2008, comprising four retired judges from each country. Before the Mumbai attack of September 2008, Pakistani judges visited India and the full team of the committee comprising eight judges (including four retired judges from India) inspected Amritsar, Tihar (Delhi) and Jaipur jails and met Pakistani prisoners confined in these jails. Thereafter, Indian judges came to Pakistan and the committee visited jails in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore. The Mumbai attack in Sep ‘08 led to strained relations between the two countries and the next visit was delayed for nearly three years. The Indian judges came in April 2011 to Pakistan and visited the jails in three cities, meeting Indian prisoners. A visit by Pakistani judges to India is now scheduled to take places in the very near future.
After each visit, the joint committee issued a statement. On each occasion, it recommended immediate release of all fishermen by both countries, and also women and children and all persons involved in minor offences. The recommendations of the committee to the above effect have not been implemented by either government.
TNS: How effective has this Committee been?
NAZ: The government has failed to provide us with an effective practical support. There are no funds available to us to even hold our meetings regularly. Our recommendations have not been implemented either and here too, the two governments lack political will to make it a robust and active committee. The governments’ purported concern over the issue remains largely on paper only.
TNS: How many Indian and Pakistani fishermen are languishing in jails on either side of the border?
NAZ: There are 234 Indian fishermen undergoing their sentence in Malir jail, 42 detainees (including three boys), who have completed their sentence but remain in prison. In the next few months, all 234 prisoners would have completed their sentence. Prisoners who have completed their respective sentence are languishing in jail and will only go back to their home country as and when the two countries mutually decide so. It is the lack of will on the part of the two governments which has resulted in illegal detention of prisoners who have completed their sentence.
As for Pakistani fishermen in Indian prisons, the number should be anywhere between 140 and 240.
TNS: Do you think the present government has been proactive in taking up this issue compared to all the previous governments?
NAZ: Neither this government nor any previous governments on both sides have ever been overly concerned. There is a humanitarian indifference on the part of both countries. They are just not bothered about the plight of these poor people or what their families may be going through. If the foreign ministers and home ministers of both countries decide, the detainees can be sent home in less than a week’s time.
In my opinion, it would be best to have a committee like the one between Sri Lanka and India. When fishermen are caught trespassing, their cases can be decided immediately by this committee. Cases then would not go to courts. Neither country scores any marks, politically or otherwise, in arresting these poor fishermen, confining them in prison for long periods, taking their cases to courts and then keeping them detained after completion of their sentences.
TNS: Has the Indian government reciprocated in the same manner?
NAZ: They have been as apathetic as our bureaucracy. It all boils down to each government’s political will and I’m afraid both countries have been lacking in it.
TNS: Do you think this is some kind of a violation of our Constitution? Do you hold the judiciary responsible for this?
NAZ: It is clearly a violation of our Constitution and illegal to keep detainees in jails on account of bureaucratic delays. While the Supreme Courts of the two countries have taken some good decisions with regard to detainees, in my opinion, the judiciary can certainly do more. It can ask the foreign office and the home ministry to expedite the issue and find a solution to the delay that takes place in the repatriation of prisoners and cases of apprehended boats.
TNS: Do fishermen know the demarcation line that divides the waters between Pakistan and India?
NAZ: There is no visible dividing line and no instruments on the boats that can show where one boundary ends or the other country’s begins.
TNS: What’s the penalty for trespassing?
NAZ: According to the Foreigner’s Act, the maximum punishment is ten years’ imprisonment, but intention counts and most fishermen are given a six-month sentence, although they languish in prisons for much longer periods as detainees.
TNS: Do you think the captured fishermen should be treated differently from other prisoners? Are these arrests unfair? Why?
NAZ: These arrests are unfair. What’s their crime? Just that these fishermen, most of them living below poverty line, crossed over unintentionally for livelihood purposes. It’s a high price they pay for a small, unintended crime! They are thrown into further destitution as their means of livelihood — boats — are not released.
The best step would be that the maritime security agencies should warn them of crossing over and send them back to their waters.
TNS: Are most accused of spying? Has this ever been proved to be true?
NAZ: In so many years, to my knowledge, not a single fisherman has been accused of spying.
…and vice versa
Treatment given to Indian prisoners here is no different from that of Pakistani prisoners there
By Aoun Sahi
On July 15, 2006, four days after the Mumbai train blasts, Muhammad Hanif, a 40 year-old resident of Orangi town in Karachi, landed at Ahmadabad airport in India on a usual business trip. He reached his hotel at 6 in the evening. Half an hour later, he found a group of police officials wanting to interrogate him at the local police station.
“They [the policemen] forced me on the ground as if I was an animal and began asking strange questions,” Hanif tells TNS. “They wanted me to admit that I had a role in the Mumbai train blasts. On my constant denial I was subjected to torture.”
Hanif was kept in the lockup for over a month and then, one fine day, a police official told him he was free. “They put me in a police van and told me I was going to be handed over to the Pakistani Rangers on the border. But after 15 hours’ drive I found myself at the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) in Bhuj. I started crying, while the police officials laughed.”
At the JIC, Hanif found himself among inmates from different countries including Pakistan. Physical and emotional torture was a usual thing there. “I was often given dirty water to drink and the food served was not quite edible. They would club my soles, hang me upside down and force me to lie on ice cubes which resulted in the numbing of my body parts. I was never given hygienic food in the jail. They wanted me to admit that I was an ISI spy or a Lashkar-e-Taeba member!”
Ansar Burney Trust fought his case and, after 11 months, the Indian authorities came to the conclusion that he hadn’t any involvement in terrorist activity of any kind in India and decided to release him.
“The day I returned to Pakistan, officials of intelligence agencies got hold of me right at the border and began to interrogate me. They thought I had turned into an Indian agent.”
“Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails are treated so badly that most of them lose their mental balance,” contends Chandigarh-based human rights activist and Chairman World Human Right Protection Council, Advocate Ranjan Lakhanpal, talking to TNS on the phone. “Some of them become so physically useless that they cannot even change their clothes by themselves.
“They are placed in separate cells and a majority of them work as servants of the Indian inmates [in the jails],” he adds.
Ranjan has helped free more than 450 Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails. “A majority of them were held for crossing border, overstaying or going to a city that was not specified on their visa. The maximum punishment for this, according to the Indian law, is not more than 6 months whereas these prisoners are kept in jails for 10 years and even longer.
“Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails are also not given remuneration like other inmates, for the ‘labour’ they do,” he says, adding that most Pakistanis arrested in Rajasthan are presupposed as spies “but in Punjab this isn’t very common.”
Ranjan blames the government of Pakistan for being an “equal partner in crime”: “The government of Pakistan does not seem concerned about its own people who are languishing in Indian jails. At least it never offered me any help in acquiring the identification data of these people. I’ve been working for the rights of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails for a long time now and even managed the release of one prisoner after 21 long years.
“The Pakistani government usually refuses to recognise the mentally imbalanced inmates as its citizens,” he says. “All Pakistani prisoners who complete their sentence are packed off to the Amritsar jail which is known for being a torture cell.”
The family members of Pakistanis who have spent time in Indian jails complain of weird changes in their attitudes. “My husband is prone to crying,” says the wife of Muhammad Hanif. “He has become paranoid and cannot easily step out of the house, let alone go to work. He fears he’ll be caught again.”
Pakistani human rights activists working on Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails say the story on this side of the border is no different. According to Sarim Burney, Vice-Chairman, Ansar Burney Trust, “The people who are arrested on the suspicion of being spies are given the worst treatment imaginable.”
Sarim urges both India and Pakistan to act maturely on the issue. “Our media covers only the miseries of Pakistani prisoners in India and overlooks the hardships Indian prisoners face here.”
However, he admits that the Pakistani authorities “may be treating the Indian prisoners better, but this is only marginally ‘better’; it’s largely very harsh.”
“Over the past five years, we have released six dead bodies of Indian prisoners from Pakistani jails. The number of bodies coming from India is more than that,” says HRCP’s Rao Abid Hameed who handles the cases of Pakistani prisoners in foreign jails and prisoners from other countries in Pakistani jails.
Rao adds that the overall conditions in Pakistani jails are pathetic. “One can understand the kind of treatment Indian prisoners must be getting [in these jails]. Physical torture is not the only issue; the prisoners are also not given access to health care or even hygienic food.”
His view is that the treatment given to Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails is comparatively better. “Indian authorities do not stop letters from these prisoners to come to Pakistan whereas on the other hand Pakistan does not allow any kind of communication between the prisoners and their families.”
Rao strongly believes the government officials on both sides of the border are “not interested in solving the issue. They formed a judicial committee on prisoners a few years back to ensure their humane treatment and speedy release, but so far nothing has come of it.”
Sub: “Application For My Deportation From India...”
The Incharge Prisoner Cell
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Sub: “Application For My Deportation From India to Pakistan Rightly on Completion of My Sentence on 04.09.11”
Most honourly, I am a Pakistani national (Presently lodged in Central Jail Sri Ganga Nagar, Rajasthan, India), R/o VPO Kanwan Lit, Daska, Distt. Sialkot, Punjab and my CNIC # 34601-0782772-9.
I was serving as government medical officer incharge basic health unit Glotean Khurd (Sialkot), when arrested on 12.07.08 by border security forces of India on entry into Indian territorial land without legal entrance documents (Passport & Visa).
My term is going to end on 04.09.11. Despite completing hard custody in this foreign land, I will not be repatriated; instead I will be detained under section 109 Cr.P.C. of India, rightly after my release from jail. During this unjustful detention period, if my deportation to Pakistan is ordered by central government of India, then I will be deported through legal route. And if not so, then I will be detained for another six months and so on.
It is brought to your kind information that same procedure of detention is being repeated for last many years with other five prisoners in this jail under cases of trespassing. Other six Pak prisoners who have died untimely in this jail due to various diseases (during my short custodial time), all had served their respective sentences and were facing unjustful detentions...
This is clearly injustice and a high level cruelity. ...Both the governments are responsible for our untimely deaths and late deportations (delayed ones). ...It is your moral duty to motivate Pak government to make necessary arrangements for our timely repatriation.
I am much worried about my acquittal and deportation. Already I am undergoing my custody on antidepressant medications which I am taking since my arrest. My depressive mood, my physical diseases, family conditions, fear of detention, uncertainty of my acquittal date, hopelessness related to future and career, and above all ill mental states of co-Pak prisoners, are just finishing me out.
Keeping in view above mentioned facts and circumstances, it is requested to you most humbly and respectfully, 3 months prior to acquittal date, to suggest/motivate government of Pakistan’s related ministry to make necessary arrangements required for my repatriation from India rightly on the day my sentenced term is completing on 04.09.11, involving/consulting government of India, thus securing the future and family of an astrayed son of your beloved motherland on humanitarian grounds and also in the interest of justice as :
“JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED”
Dr Tayyab Tahir s/o Mohammad Yaqoob (Late)
U.S. 3/6 IPPR, 3/14 F.Act
FIR No. 144/08
PS: Hindumalkot, Sri Ganga Nagar
Sentenced on 17.02.11
Sentenced by: JMIC Court Sri Ganga Nagar
Sentenced to 3 year imprisonment & fine Rs.5000/-
Confined in Central Jail
Sri Ganga Nagar,
Address for Correspondence:
Dr Tayyab Tahir (Pak Prisoner)
Central Jail Sri Ganga Nagar Rajasthan, India.
Offences which may be considered minor in other countries are ‘heinous’ when committed by Indians and Pakistanis in each other’s territory
Muhammad Shahbaz, 35, a member of the Pakistani delegation of artists and writers to India, had gone through the immigration process and completed all other official formalities, he realised there was more to come. As he approached the car parking stand, he saw around half a dozen individuals darting towards him. They were waving their hands, full of Indian currency notes spread symmetrically, in the air and offering him unbelievable currency exchange rates. Surprisingly, they belonged to all professions: they were porters, employees of customs clearing agencies, street vendors and what not.
Shahbaz ignored their calls, made at the full pitch of their voices, and struggled his way to the Reserve Bank of India’s site office located in a badly-lit and worn-out corridor. Within minutes he returned with some Indian currency exchanged for US dollars and an official receipt confirming the transaction had taken place there. Earlier, he had faced a similar bunch of fellows who tried to sell him Indian currency through what one may call “forced marketing.”
His fellow delegates who bought Indian currency from vendors felt Shahbaz had lost Rs 3 per dollar and sympathised with him but the latter felt quite comfortable with the deal. In his words, he had “bought peace of mind by paying extra” while others had taken a big risk.
The course taken by Shahbaz can be termed as wise given the relations between India and Pakistan. The Indian government and media regularly level allegations against Pakistan for printing counterfeit Indian currency in Pakistan and then trafficking it into India through Nepal and other countries. There have been cases where the Pakistanis travelling to India were sent behind bars for possessing fake Indian currency, regardless where they had bought it. The possessor is suspected of carrying it by design and any chance of him falling in trap or duped by an unscrupulous moneychanger is ruled out.
There are other offences as well which may be considered minor in other countries but are ‘heinous’ if committed by the nationals of India and Pakistan in each other’s territories. For example, not sticking to visa requirements — for instance, visiting only the cities allowed to visit, not reporting to the police on entering and leaving a city in the case of the ‘reporting visa’ can have severe repercussions for the violator.
Similarly, not carrying visa papers along on travel to other city can create problems like what happened with the Pakistan-born Saba Shahzadi from UK. She travelled with her husband to Agra in December 2007 to celebrate her first birth anniversary and was arrested only to be released after two months.
Rao Abid Hamid, In-charge, Prisons Cell, HRCP, believes Pakistani visitors to India and vice versa must refrain from any irresponsible talks even with friends, strictly abide by the requirements of customs and baggage rules, buy currencies from responsible and certified dealers and carry only the amount that is entitled to them. If caught for violating any of these rules, they can be charged for spying, sabotage etc. and the onus would lie on them to prove their innocence.
Possession of more currency than what has been declared by the possessor is a punishable crime as well. Popular Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was taken in custody on the same allegations and released after prolonged investigations and fines. Any other individual, lacking the celebrity value and the media attention enjoyed by Rahat, would have had to go through a much longer and tougher ordeal.
Pakistan callously wash their hands off their citizens, even though
Unless they become a cause celebre, either because of their nuisance value, or because of media interest (which is almost always interchangeable with nuisance value) or because their case becomes a big political and diplomatic issue, the status of people caught on the wrong side of the India-Pakistan border (a double whammy, if ever there was one), is generally that of disavowed citizens. There is little urgency, and even lesser interest among the impervious, imperious and generally insensitive and indifferent officialdom, in trying to secure relief for the citizens of their country who are unfortunate enough to find themselves behind bars in the other country. In recent years, though, things have improved just a little, not so much in terms of the treatment (rather mistreatment) meted out to prisoners, but in terms of growing media awareness and civil society consciousness, which has led to the highlighting of the predicament of prisoners, many of who have to wait for months, if not years, before being repatriated to their countries even after having completed their sentence.
Normally Indians and Pakistanis who cross the border illegally fall into one of five categories – ‘strayers’ (those who either inadvertently cross over into the other country’s land or sea territory, or in some cases, those who violate their visas by visiting places they are not permitted), ‘over-stayers’ (or those who either wittingly or unwittingly extend their stay in the other country beyond the duration allowed by their visa), smugglers, spies or saboteurs (the last three categories are self-explanatory). Clearly, a distinction needs to be made between the first two categories (maybe even the smuggler) and the last two categories i.e. spies and saboteurs.
Unfortunately, but perhaps understandably, in the climate of mistrust and suspicion that exists between India and Pakistan, such a distinction is not made. This is so partly because of bloody-mindedness — Indians and Pakistanis are simply not willing to give any benefit of doubt to the other side and at the same time they are not willing to admit that perhaps there might be a problem on their side too. Partly, it is because of the inherent tendency of law enforcement officials to distrust the explanation given for a transgression committed (which itself is the result of years of experience of dealing with people of the region who have a natural proclivity to be economical with the truth before anyone in authority). But mostly it is because everybody dealing with these cases wants to cover his backside lest he be accused of being soft on the ‘enemy’.
The tragedy is that even when the bona fides of at least the people belonging to the first two categories are proved, the wheels of government move ever so slowly that no quick relief is available. The fact that in India and Pakistan, every police thana, every interrogation centre and every jail is as bad, if not worse, than the infamous Abu Gharaib prison in Iraq, only compounds the tragedy of the prisoners who have either strayed or over-stayed. Of course, if a person is arrested on charges of spying, then he gets an ‘extra special treatment’ that would put even Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo Bay prisons to shame.
But there is perhaps a case for making a distinction even between spies and saboteurs. It might appear counter-intuitive, but the fact is that unlike a saboteur or for that matter a terrorist, a spy is merely doing a job which is, in a sense, legitimate state activity. What is more, the vicarious pleasure that officials in India and Pakistan take in the brutal treatment of any spy from the other country is absent when it comes to treating spies from third countries, especially when they are whites, and might have indulged in subversive activities — remember Raymond Davis?
It is actually a bit of a shame the way India and Pakistan so callously wash their hands off their citizens who are caught in the other country. Even though it is the duty of diplomatic missions to come to the aid of their citizens by gaining consular access and providing legal assistance, this normal diplomatic practice is observed more in its violation. In India and Pakistan, when a smuggler, spy or even a saboteur is caught consular access is generally not offered, and if offered, is not taken. The apparent reason is that countries wish to maintain deniability especially if the man apprehended is charged with an act of espionage or worse, subversion. But it also has to do with the fact that most of the smugglers, spies and saboteurs, belong to a class of citizens considered dispensable commodities.
It is probably a truism that relations between India and Pakistan will make sense only if the two countries respect the rights of each other’s citizens. But for this to happen, the two countries must first respect the rights of their own citizens.