Inside a police station in Ganderbal, four-year-old Pakistani boy Iftikhar Ahmad clings to his father and refuses to leave. Iftikhar’s father, 43-year-old Gulzar Ahmad Tantray, had in 1990 crossed over from Ganderbal’s Saloora village to Pakistan, allegedly for arms training.
Gulzar returned to the Valley with his son last Thursday and, after spending a night at home, presented himself before the police Friday morning. On Sunday, Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney reached out to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, tweeting: “@MEAIndia Ansar Burney Trust request 4 release of Pak boy Iftikhar Ahmad (4) in Ganderbal prison Srinagar India.”
But Ganderbal Superintendent of Police Imtiyaz Ismail Parray told The Indian Express that while the “boy is free to go”, he does not want to leave his father. “His father has returned from Pakistan and under the law, we have booked and detained him,” Parray said. Gulzar was booked under Section 13 of the unlawful activities act and Section 2/3 of the ingress and internal movement control ordinance.
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Station House Officer Asif Iqbal said, “How can we arrest a four-year-old boy? He is allowed to go anywhere. But he doesn’t want to leave.” Gulzar’s family also tried to take the boy with them, but in vain. “He (Iftikhar) doesn’t know any of us — he has seen us for the first time. He doesn’t want to leave his father alone,” said Gulzar’s brother Zubair Ahmad Tantray.
Zubair said Gulzar was in Class XI when he crossed over to Pakistan for arms training. But instead of returning to the Valley with a gun, he settled in Muzaffarabad and got married there. “He had two wives in Pakistan. The first one didn’t have a child, so he married again,” said Zubair. “He had a child from his second wife, but she later died.”
Zubair said Gulzar decided to return to the Valley with his son “under the rehabilitation policy” for militants. “The child’s maternal grandfather told Gulzar not to leave the child with his stepmother, so he decided to bring him here,” said Zubair.
Ever since the former Omar Abdullah-led government formulated a policy for return and rehabilitation of “misguided” Kashmiri youth who had gone to Pakistan and PoK for arms training, more than 1,250 people, including women and children, have returned to the state.
But according to official sources, most of them are not eligible for rehabilitation as they did not come through government-approved routes, which include Poonch-Rawalakot and Uri-Muzaffrabad cross-LoC roads, Wagah in Amritsar and Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The surrender policy is applicable to only those Kashmiri youth who crossed over to Pakistan and PoK between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 2009.