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Kargil PoWs return
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Wagah, August 9
“We want to rejoin our units at the earliest so that we can serve the country till our last breath”, was the spontaneous reaction of Lance Naik Jagsir Singh and sapper Mohd Arif both prisoners of war (PoW) —when they crossed over to India following their repatriation by Pakistan, here today.

This was the first repatriation of PoWs through the Wagah Joint Checkpost in this millennium. Jagsir and Mohd Arif said they had not seen any PoW in the Pakistan jail where they were held in captivity for five years.

Unlike other prisoners who were released by Pakistan in the past two years, they said they were not tortured during their captivity.

As a mutual exchange of prisoners, the Government of India repatriated sepoy Salim Ali Shah and three civilians, who had strayed into Indian territory .

Both Jagsir and Arif did not show any grouse against the Indian Army that had declared them deserters following their inadvertent straying into Pakistan while doing demining operation in Kargil. The families of both jawans had suffered humiliation. Jagsir’s father, Gurdev Singh, died fighting the stigma of ‘the family of deserter’. Arif’s mother passed away, while his wife had remarried.

It was a happy reunion of families at Wagah. Jagsir Singh, who belongs to Kot Bhai village in Punjab, met his around four-year-old daughter Kuldip Kaur for the first time as she was born after his arrest in Pakistan. Tears of joy could be seen in the eyes of Ms Chhoti Kaur, mother of Lance Naik. She hugged her son and blessed him after he crossed over to India. Following arrest of Jagsir Singh, the poverty-stricken family had divided. His wife Jaswinder Kaur started living with her brothers at Muktsar as the limited source of income could not keep them together.

Brig V.K. Chona, a spokesman of the Army, said the release of two Indian soldiers had come about due to initiatives taken by the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, besides consistent efforts and regular interaction between two Director-Generals (Military Operations) on the issue. However, he said the Army would examine the circumstances that led to inadvertent straying of the duo into the Pakistan territory.

He said ever since confirmation of the soldiers’ presence in Pakistan, the Army had maintained contact with their families and relatives. He said immediate financial assistance was also provided. All service benefits were restored to the soldiers and their families. He said their balance pay amounting to over Rs 2 lakh each, had been credited to their accounts. He, however, evaded a direct reply whether any compensation was being given to the PoWs. He said both PoWs would be allowed to rejoin their duties.

Earlier, both PoWs, who were handed over by Pakistan’s Sutlej Range, were garlanded by Indian officials, including the BSF and the Army. Relatives of Mohd Arif had come all the way from Meerut. Before they were allowed to interact with the media, both PoWs were de-briefed by senior Army officials in a separate room at the Checkpost. Pakistan sepoy Salim Ali Shah, who was repatriated to his country, desired that those languishing in various jails should be given humane treatment and their repatriation should be done on priority basis. This would help in improving relations between India and Pakistan, he added.
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