Saturday, April 24, 2010

Endless wait for 54 POW families - Data From Defence Ministry Shows Majority Of Persons Missing For 40 Years

Mumbai : The thought that her husband might be alive languishing in some jail in Pakistan still gives Manju Malkhani sleepless nights.The Colaba resident hopes a miracle might happen and her husband, Flight Lieutenant K L Malkhani, may return home finally. Malkhani was a fighter pilot with the Indian Air force and part of the first air strike during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. His first sortie on December 3 in 1971 did the maximum damage in Pathankot area and destroyed the communication installations, recalls Manju. Malkhani did a second sortie but never returned. The search team could never find any remains of the aircraft, which probably means the plane did not crash, Manju says.

Manju is not alone. There are 54 such families of defence personnel across the country who still believe their near and dear ones to be in the custody of Pakistan. Data from the defence ministry show that a majority of these persons have been missing for 40 years now. An RTI activist who filed a query on this issue said the families should get some confirmation whether they are alive or not so that they get on with their lives as the uncertainty is more tragic. Punjab and Haryana top the list with 10 officers gone missing and believed to be in Pakistans custody. Delhi comes 2nd with nine officers missing, followed by Maharashtra with four officers missing. Out of the 54 missing defence personnel, 24 are from the army. A senior defence ministry official said during the visit of the external affairs minister in Jan 07,  Pakistan Govt. was persuaded to receive a delegation of people whose close relatives were missing in action. The delegation of 14 relatives even went to 10 jails in Pakistan.But they could not conclusively confirm any physical presence of the missing officers from the defence services, said the official. He added the Pakistan government has consistently denied the presence of any Indian prisoner of war in its jails. But we will continue to exert pressure, the official said. Ansar Burney, who has been fighting the case of alleged Indian spy Sarabjit Singh said he has been working on this for almost 20 years. I found so many prisoners of war in mental asylums, even the Pakistani paper Dawn had reported it then. The problem is that both sides hide their prisoners of war. There was the case of Kashmir Singh who was found after many years and his name then was Ibrahim. I would want the Pakistan authorities to search for them and share the information with the Indian government. Nasir Aslam Zahid, a former judge of Pakistan, has been working to secure the release of prisoners on both sides of the border from 2004. I visit jails every day and with experience I can tell you there is no Indian prisoner of 65 and 71 on jail records of Pakistan, he said, adding there was a joint committee of eight judges from both sides of the border which was abandoned after 26/11. Our delegation went to Delhi in 2008 and then a delegation came from India in March 2008 that visited the jails of Pakistan. There were only about 15 prisoners whom this delegation met. Not one member from the delegation indicated there might be some prisoners of war, said Zahid.

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