THE names of two detainees accused by the government of being guides for the terrorists who attacked the 12 Infantry Brigade headquarters in Uri figured on a list given to the Pakistan High Commission of detainees who could be repatriated home, a top Pakistan diplomat has told The Indian Express.
The two detainees, the diplomat said, were given access to a team from the Pakistan High Commission on December 5 when its officials held a routine meeting with prisoners from their country in Amritsar.
Government officials confirmed this meeting but declined to comment on whether the two suspects’ names figured in the list of several Pak nationals who could be repatriated home — an admission of their innocence. This was one of three meetings, the Pak diplomat said, at New Delhi, Jaipur and Amritsar where Pak detainees from various regional prisons are brought for either verification or repatriation.
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The government said Islamabad had submitted no request for the repatriation of the two suspects, possibly fearing reciprocal requests from New Delhi — a sign of a high-stakes game of national prestige that could ensure both spends months, or even years, in prison.
Faisal Husain Awan, a resident of Potha Jandgran near the village of Koomi Kote in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and his school-friend Ahsan Khursheed, from Khilayana Khurd in Muzaffarabad’s Hattian Bala tehsil, were alleged by the Ministry of External Affairs to have “confessed to facilitating” the infiltration of a group of four Jaish-e-Muhammad cadre who carried out the Uri attack.
However, documents and accounts provided by the family of Awan published in the The Indian Express last week suggest the two may have been Class 10 students who strayed across the Line of Control in error. The Indian Express report showed the two had been at home on September 18, the day of the attack, and then skipped a planned school trip to Murree on September 21, the day they were arrested near Uri.
“Pakistan High Commission staff indeed met with the two juveniles on December 5 and were told they could be repatriated home”, a spokesperson for the mission told The Indian Express. “We are in the process of taking next steps”.
Islamabad’s account of the December 5 meeting, if corroborated, could have far-reaching consequences for Awan and Khursheed who are listed as 18 and 19 years old in an FIR filed by the Army which forms the basis of the ongoing criminal proceedings against them by the National Investigation Agency.
NIA officials are yet to conduct forensic tests to establish the age of the two suspects. NIA sources said they have no legal reason to doubt the facts in the FIR until the documentation obtained by The Indian Express is made available to them officially. The two suspects have also had no access to counsel so far, sources said.
NIA Director-General Sharad Kumar declined to comment on the December 5 meeting. A senior NIA official said the agency had not been kept informed of the meeting by the Ministry of Home Affairs. He said the NIA was currently proceeding on the assumption that “our investigation is on”. The NIA is expected to take a decision on filing charges against the two individuals inside weeks.
Asked for clarification on the Pakistan High Commission’s claims to have been informed it could repatriate the two detainees, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesperson told The Indian Express: “The NIA has had no formal communication in this regard from the Ministry of External Affairs or the Ministry of Home Affairs. Unless they have a formal communication, the NIA cannot move ahead”.
Pakistan’s meeting with the two suspects on December 5 has also raised questions, officials said, over its failure to act on their behalf since then.
A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said he was unaware of the December 5 meeting adding that the Pakistan High Commission had made no request to New Delhi for arrangements to be made for the repatriation of Awan and Khursheed. “There has been no correspondence at all on this issue”, the spokesperson said.
“These two have got caught in maze that involves questions of diplomatic reciprocity and national standing”, a senior official said. “Had Pakistan been serious about repatriating these two individuals”, an MEA official said, “it would have moved the necessary paperwork between December 5 and now. The reason it is not doing so is that doesn’t want to face the embarrassment of being asked why it’s willing to seek consular access for its nationals, while denying them to Indian nationals in Pakistan”.
Islamabad, the official said, had also made no effort to seek consular access to the two individuals after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit was given a dossier bearing details of their alleged confession — in line with its practice in all cases involving Pakistani nationals alleged to be involved with terrorism.
New Delhi has served multiple diplomatic démarches seeking consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Iran-based Indian national arrested by Pakistan in March on charges of being a Research and Analysis Wing Agent. Islamabad has not so far granted this access.
Earlier this month, Pak media had reported that the country’s de-facto Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, had told its Senate that legally compelling evidence had yet to be gathered of Jadhav’s guilt — reports the Foreign Ministry later denied.