66 pakistani prisoners go home
Attari December 31:
Despite tension escalating between the two countries in the aftermath of the Mumbai Terror attack, India freed 66 Pakistani prisoners, including 28 women and four children, in a gesture termed by many as a New Year gift.
Of the 66, 51 were from Rajasthan and Gujarat jails, 14 from Amritsar Central Jail and one from Tihar Jail, Delhi. Another prisoner, Naif Ahmed, could not arrive on schedule from Mumbai and would be sent home in a day or two, said Asghar Ali, a Pakistan High Commission official, who accompanied the prisoners back home.
“This is the best New Year gift I have ever received,” said 22-year-old Shehzad, a resident of Karachi, who was lodged in the Jodhpur Central Jail. He said he had been arrested a few months ago for carrying forged documents. Notably, 58 of those freed had been arrested on similar charges. “Many of us are victims of travel agents, who did not provide us with genuine visas,” said Noor Bano, an old woman from Karachi.
They urged the two neighbours to refrain from war and hold a dialogue to sort out mutual problems. “Tempers are bound to flare up once in a while, but there should be no war as it would breed more problems than it will solve,” said Amir Ali of Karachi, who was arrested along with three relatives in April this year with forged visas.
“We have relatives and will continue to visit them, come what may,” he added. Aamna Sultan, who had been lodged in Amritsar Central Jail with her husband and two-year-old daughter since April this year, said tension between India and Pakistan should not hamper the public sentiment. “People on both sides still love each other,” she said.
‘I Will Return To Take My Bride’: Among the 66 Pakistani prisoners released was Mohammed Asif, a Pakistani national married to an Indian woman for the past more than 17 years. He returned home after staying in Tihar Jail for three years on the charges of overstaying his visa term. Asif, who has three children from his marriage to a Delhi-based woman, was arrested when he visited his wife in 1998.
“I was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 in 2005,” he said. He expressed relief at being freed and said he would try to settle down as soon as possible so that he can come back to take his wife to Pakistan. “I want to take her along once and for all,” said Asif.