KARACHI, Feb 2: It took Imtiaz Ali nearly seven years to return home from an Indian prison. A patient of a serious psychological disorder since childhood, Ali is happy to be back after years of agony but remains worried about his five compatriots, who suffer from similar disorders and are still languishing in the Kutch district jail of Gujarat.
“It was in 2005 when I strayed across the border from Tharparkar,” he says. “I only came to know of my presence in Indian territory when Indian security officials caught and drove me to a nearby police station. I was informed about my impending release only last month and have no clue to the reason behind that sudden decision.”
In his late 30s, Ali has no complaints about his time in Kutch jail with five other Pakistanis who were behind bars for the same reason. However, he is deeply concerned over their fate.
“I wonder why they were not released. I miss them and pray for their early release,” he says as Allah Dino nods his head in agreement.
Like Ali, Allah Dino is also among the five Pakistani prisoners released by India on Jan 27. Three of them left for their homes from the Wagah border leaving Ali and Allah Dino — both suffering from the same illness — for Edhi volunteers to assist them during the rest of their journey to their hometown in Badin via Karachi.
At the Edhi Foundation office near Tower, just before they embark on the final leg of their journey, Ali and Allah Dino cannot clearly recall details of their past nor are they very certain about the future. Ali, who is comparatively young, and the eldest of eight siblings, says he wants to resume working at a cattle pen in Karachi’s Bhains Colony.
Visibly shaken and weak, Allah Dino, who is in his mid-50s, only remembers his two elder brothers and a younger sister but can neither recall his capture by Indian forces nor his years in the Kutch jail.
“He is not well enough to talk to you. Even in jail we assisted him with everything and the doctor was also briefed by the inmates about his condition. Allah alone knows why they made people like us prisoners,” says Ali, as he steps forward to lend his former jail-mate a hand.
Peace campaigners in Pakistan say that the initiative taken a few years ago for the quick release of fishermen and people with deteriorating health conditions in both countries’ jails has not yet borne fruit.
“In March or April the Indian delegation is again due to meet and collect data of their prisoners here in Pakistani jails,” says retired justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, one of the four committee members representing Pakistan that coordinate with their Indian counterparts for the purpose. Justice Zahid, however, does not see the desired results.
“It’s really unfortunate that for minor mistakes or crimes people suffer so harshly. We strongly recommended the quick release of fishermen and those suffering from any kind of disease but the process is so cumbersome that it consumes years and prisoners are the ultimate sufferers,” he says.
He maintains that consular access to prisoners of each country and quick confirmation of their nationality can make a huge difference.
“Even a single order from interior ministries on both sides of the border can make it happen. Otherwise we will keep hearing stories like that of these people who returned today,” he says.
Meanwhile, as Ali heads home, he cannot help but remember the emotions of his compatriots left behind in prison. “When we were leaving, the remaining five — Iqbal, Shafi Dad, Dhingru, Shahid and Juman — were in tears,” he says. “I couldn’t face them, as the two of us were being released and they were not. They need the same care as we do and long to be united once again with their families. But I was helpless to do anything.”