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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court admitted for hearing on Tuesday a petition filed in 2009 seeking repatriation of around 237,000 stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh.

The petition was filed by Advocate Rashid-ul-Haq Qazi as a representative of the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee and the Organisation for Repatriation of Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued a notice to Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to respond to the issues raised in the petition.

When the petition was filed, the court office had returned it with a suggestion to the petitioner to approach an appropriate forum. The petitioner challenged the decision and Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani issued a directive on April 15 to fix the matter before the bench of Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.

When the case was taken up on Tuesday, Advocate Qazi argued that stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh were citizens of Pakistan by birth or descent and that after dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh, the governments of the two countries were committed to repatriating non-Bengali speaking Pakistanis from Bangladesh and Bengali-speaking Pakistanis to Bangladesh.

Therefore, the stranded Pakistanis should to be repatriated to Pakistan, the counsel said and added the government had no right under the constitution and law to withhold their repatriation to their homeland.

The petitioner argued that the government was bound under the April 19, 1974 tripartite agreement among India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to normalise relations in the sub-continent in the consequence of which the stranded families had to be repatriated from Bangladesh.

The agreement was partially acted upon by Pakistan and a group of 325 stranded Pakistanis were repatriated on Jan 10, 1993 and rehabilitated in Mian Chunnu and Muzaffargarh in Punjab during the previous government of Nawaz Sharif.

Leaving the rest of the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh would amount to discrimination and a violation of Article 25 of the Constitution that asked for the equality of citizens, it said. By not repatriating the people, the government was depriving them of their constitutional fundamental rights, the petition said.

It requested the court to order the government to look after stranded Pakistanis living in places resembling concentration camps by providing them food and medicine until they were repatriated.

The petition said that the government was legally bound to complete housing projects to accommodate repatriated Pakistanis and, in case of failure to do so, it would be breaching their fundamental rights by violating articles 4, 9, 19, 23 and 25 of the Constitution.

It alleged that the stranded Pakistanis had been abandoned to face atrocities by Bangladeshi people in revenge for their loyalty with Pakistani army in the 1971 Pakistan-India war.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.