Portuguese kindness

February 20, 2020


UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is a Portuguese national. TV talk shows are debating whether his positive statements about Pakistan and the Kashmir issue will bear any fruit.

I wish to comment on his nation’s experience with India.

As a merchant navy officer I was sailing on a Pakistani merchant ship from Pakistan to the US in 1996, when we had to deviate to the island of Madeira, a Portuguese colony in the Atlantic Ocean in June that month owing to a machinery breakdown.

In Madeira we were taken aback by the hospitality we were offered. We never encountered such hospitality in any other foreign port and sought an explanation. Later we were informed by an old sailor that the Portuguese felt indebted to Pakistan for her assistance in offering transit facilities at Karachi to evacuate about 3,300 prisoners of war following the Indian invasion in December 1961 of Goa, which has been a Portuguese territory for 451 year. This seizure of territory was similar to India’s invasions of Junagadh in November 1947 and Hyderabad Deccan in September 1948.

The Portuguese PoWs in India were treated in a most despicable way and were kept in inhuman conditions besides forced to do hard labour. The then Indian government led by none other than Jawahar Lal Nehru, also refused to allow Portuguese ships to call at Bombay to evacuate these PoWs for repatriation to their home country.

Finally, after intense negotiations that lasted for almost six months, it was agreed that French chartered aircraft would transport these prisoners to Karachi. Thereafter the aircraft made several trips bringing the Portuguese captives. It was from Karachi that three Portuguese ships carried them home.

I am sure Mr Guterres has these historical facts in mind.

Rafi Ahmed

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2020