MUMBAI-BASED Hamid Nehal Ansari will be repatriated to India Tuesday, six years after he was caught and jailed in Pakistan for allegedly entering the country illegally, the Indian government said.
Earlier Monday, Pakistan said it was releasing Ansari following the completion of his sentence. Sources said Ansari’s jail term ended on December 16.
Welcoming Ansari’s repatriation, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “We have received a note from Pakistan today that they are releasing Indian national Hamid Nehal Ansari tomorrow. It is a matter of great relief, especially for the family members, that six years of incarceration of the Indian civilian in a Pakistan jail is coming to an end.”
Sources said the Indian High Commission in Islamabad is making arrangements to bring Ansari to the Wagah border. Ansari’s parents reached Delhi Monday, and are expected to fly to Amritsar to receive him at Wagah.
Ansari, 33, was detained by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in 2012 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. He was lodged in the Peshawar Central Jail on December 15 that year.
Sources in New Delhi said the Pakistan government did not allow consular access to Ansari in the last six years, despite the Indian government reminding them 96 times through notes verbale. They said Pakistan facilitated one phone call during this period between Ansari and his mother last year.
“The parents were called to the Pakistan High Commission quietly, and a phone call was arranged between the two,” sources said. This contact took place amid the spat between the two countries over the arrest in Pakistan of former Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav on charges of alleged espionage.
Although Ansari’s jail term ended Sunday, he was not able to leave for India as his legal documents were not ready. Last Thursday, the Peshawar High Court had given the Pakistan government one month to complete the repatriation process.
Quick return signals hope
Close on the heels of the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, Ansari’s return exhibits a willingness by both sides that they are ready to separate humanitarian gestures from the tension that has shadowed bilateral ties. But the big question is whether this thaw will be limited or extend to the hundreds of prisoners still languishing in jails on either side.
“Ansari is being released upon completion of his sentence and is being repatriated to India,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said. Faisal claimed Ansari was an “Indian spy who had illegally entered Pakistan and was involved in anti-state crimes and forging documents”.
Ansari went missing after he was taken into custody by local police in Pakistan’s Kohat in 2012. Following a habeas corpus petition filed by his mother, Fauzia Ansari, the Peshawar High Court was informed that he was in the custody of the Pakistan Army and was being tried by a military court.
A two-judge Peshawar High Court bench Thursday heard an appeal filed by Ansari through his lawyer. The bench asked the Additional Attorney General to explain how would they keep the prisoner in jail after the completion of his term.
An officer, representing Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, informed the court that a prisoner could be kept for one month while the legal documents were being prepared. The court then directed the ministry to make arrangements within that period for his release and return.
Ansari’s case is being projected as a humanitarian gesture by Pakistan at a time when its Imran Khan-led government and India have agreed to open the Kartarpur corridor to facilitate visa-free travel for Sikh pilgrims from Gurdaspur to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
Following Ansari’s release, India called on Pakistan to “end the misery of other Indian nationals” lodged in Pakistani jails.
“We would like Pakistan to take action to also end the misery of other Indian nationals and fishermen whose nationality has been confirmed and who have completed their sentences, but continue to languish in Pakistan jails. We also await Pakistan’s response to the visit of an Indian medical team to meet mentally unsound prisoners with a view to facilitate their nativity verification and subsequent repatriation,” the MEA spokesperson said.