He was on the Pakistani soil while we were waiting for him on the Indian side. We were away from each other by only a couple of hundred feet. We were separated by an International Border few feet away. Hamid Nihal Ansari saw us from a distance and recognised us, as we saw him in a Peshawari cap. He could not control himself and wanted to rush to the Indian side and hug his mother, father and elder brother. Some formalities were still to be completed before Pakistan could hand over Hamid to the Indian authorities. It was a matter of a couple of minutes but he was restless. Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officials realised this and in no time formalities got over and he was in India.
He just ran towards his family and hugged his mother Fauzia, father Nehal, elder brother Dr Khalid. We also hugged. For a couple of seconds, nobody uttered a single word. Everybody was just crying. The tears were of joy, of meeting after six years. Finally, his mother uttered a couple of words, “Beta, aa gaya”. This happened on Tuesday evening at the border of India-Pakistan at the Wagah-Attari in Punjab. We were waiting for Hamid at the border since noon.
Initially, we were told that he will be handed over to India before the beating-the-retreat programme. Every day, thousands of Indians and Pakistanis come here to watch the flag-lowering ceremony. He came after the conclusion of beating-the-retreat. After hugging the whole family, he and other members of the family bowed down and kissed the Indian soil. It was a spontaneous action. It touched the hearts of the people. Many who attended the programme were aware that Hamid will be brought here as soon as the programme got over. Some of them wanted to stay to witness the historic moment. But, they were not allowed.
I have been to the border many times. But, this time it was different. It was to bring back young Hamid, whom I met in early 2012 three times. He was in love with a Pakistani girl and wanted to live with her forever. He tried to get a Pakistani visa for the Kohat town, which is near the Afghanistan border. He failed to get the visa and so took the risk of going to Kohat ‘illegally’ from Afghanistan. He landed in Kabul on November 4, 2012, and entered Pakistan via Torkham. As we say love is blind, he took a risk. He was arrested in Kohat. The struggle of his parents began as they searched for their son. Till January 2016, nobody was sure where and how he is. Then Pakistan confirmed that he is in the custody of Pakistan army. He was sentenced for three years. His sentence got over on December 16, 2018.
We were trying our best to see that he is released and repatriated to India the very next day. But, things are never easy between the two countries. India had written 95 letters to the Pakistani authorities asking for consular access but without any success. Meanwhile, Pakistan decided to open Kartarpur Corridor for the pilgrims on the occasion of 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev coming next year. During an interaction with the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai asked him a question on Hamid Ansari. Imran Khan assured him and other Indian journalists that he will personally look into the matter.
Media from both sides played a major role in generating public opinion in favour of innocent Hamid. I must mention the contribution of two Pakistani lawyers Adv Qazi Anwar and Ruksananda Naz. Adv Qazi is also a former senator while Ruksananda is a human rights activist. They stood solidly behind Hamid. They not only fought case pro bono but also helped Hamid in whatever way they could. Hamid was like a family member to them. It was not easy for them but they were firm in their commitment. They really need a big salute for their commitment. There were also many unknown faces that helped us in getting back Hamid.
Hamid is back but still, there are many ‘Hamids’ in prisons of both the countries. They also need to be repatriated to their homes. Such issues need to be seen from the humanistic approach rather than political. It is high time that both the countries revive Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, consisting of retired Judges from the higher judiciary, set up in January 2007. Unfortunately, it has not met since October 2013. Now, India has nominated four members. Pakistan is yet to nominate its representatives. As the last meeting was held in India, Pakistan will have to host the next meeting. The committee helped many prisoners to return to their countries and also helped sick prisoners and others who were waiting for their consular access, etc. The committee had unanimously recommended that all the women prisoners, children, fishermen and prisoners with mental health issues must be repatriated to their countries.
I feel Hamid Ansari’s release and repatriation has generated hope among people whose near and dear ones are languishing in each other’s prisons. Let us hope all of them get justice and are back with their families.