For six years, Hamid Nihal Ansari’s family has not celebrated any festival. It could not, for Ansari was in a Pakistani jail since 2012, arrested on charges of possessing a fake identity card. Since then, the only contact it had with him was one phone call last year.
But a little past 5 pm Tuesday, at the zero-line between India and Pakistan at the Wagah border, that much-delayed celebration finally came — six years of missed festivals packed into one intense moment of joy, and relief.
With his parents and his brother waiting on the Indian side of the border, 33-year-old Ansari stepped over the line after the retreat ceremony and fell immediately to the ground to kiss the soil. Moments later, his family was beside him, relieved that he had returned safely.
As his mother, Fauzia, clung to him, refusing to let go, she asked if he was tortured and he only shook his head. Worried, she even checked him from head to toe while Ansari hugged and greeted his father, Nihal Ansari and brother, Khalid.
Overcome, she only said: “Don’t ask me much today. I want to thank the governments of India and Pakistan for making my son’s release possible. We are thankful to God.”
The family has but a few minutes together before Ansari is whisked away to the immigration office to complete necessary formalities. Ansari and his family are expected to return to Mumbai, from where he hails, Wednesday.
Earlier, Ansari’s brother said: “We haven’t celebrated any festival in the last six years. We haven’t laughed in six years either. It is the day to celebrate all the festival for us. We can’t explain our emotions today.”
While his family reached the Wagah border at noon, Ansari was allowed to cross the zero line by Pakistan Rangers at 5:20 pm after the retreat ceremony concluded.
In 2012, Ansari was detained by Pakistan’s agencies after he crossed over to Pakistan from Afghanistan where he had reportedly gone to meet a woman he had befriended online. In 2015, a Pakistani military court sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment for possessing a fake identity card and he was lodged at the Peshawar Central Jail on December 15 that year.
Sources in New Delhi said that India was not allowed consular access to Ansari since 2012 despite 96 reminders through notes verbale. Sources said that Pakistan facilitated just one phone call in this period between Ansari and his mother in 2017.