By Sushant Sareen
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.
Sunday, July 03, 2011
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
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 release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw