Pushed to the wall

No end to the woes of families returning from PAK under the amnesty scheme

It is a pity that the woes of the families returning from Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) under the amnesty policy for surrendered ultras have remained unheeded. The tragic suicide by a wife of one of beneficiaries of this policy last week demonstrates this beyond a shadow of doubt. It turns out that three years after Jammu and Kashmir government gave the nod for rehabilitation and amnesty policy for youth who had crossed the borders for arms training and wish to return to lead normal lives is a major fraud with them. Several men who picked up guns after 1989 but had no cases against them did return, most of them with wives they married there and children who were born out of the wedlock, after crossing the Line of Control or taking the long route via Nepal. However, the policy is both conceptually flawed and ambiguous. Besides, there is as yet no mechanism in place for making the policy effective and allowing beneficiaries to settle back in their original homes to lead normal lives, disconnected from the conflict. The returnees have repeatedly complained of harassment by security agencies including police. This is not the case only with those returning via Nepal, which is officially considered illegal but also those crossing the LoC to re-enter. The government maintains that specific points on the Line of Control have been identified for those seeking to benefit from the policy but Nepal has been the favoured route of many with Pakistan still not having made party to the policy and crossing the Line of Control in this situation can be fraught with serious dangers. A curious policy of pick and choose is adopted for those returning via Nepal; while some of them have beenwelcomed into the fold of the party, others have been victimized; the much publicised case of Liyaqat Shah, caught by Delhi police on the Indo-Nepal border, framed in terror plot and later released after NIA cleared his name, last year is just one case in point. Even the courts, in a case, have maintained that entry of a Pakistani citizen into Indian territory via Nepal border would amount to an illegal move.

But even otherwise, many of the returnees who took the officially endorsed route to come back are also complaining of harassment and ticklish problems in their resettlement with court cases pending against them, the legal status of their wives and children in a limbo and their children being refused admission in schools. The statelessness is not simply restricted to the families since courts have even questioned thecitizenship of atleast one of the returnees who crossed the Nepal border. Such charges tend to deflate the balloon of the amnesty policy claims that the Jammu and Kashmir government has been boasting about as a major achievement. Reports have also poured in of both Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies getting in touch with the applicants to work for them as informers and spies, which defies the basicessence of the policy aimed at allowing them to return to normal lives, rather than be co-opted into any role in the conflict management. There is a vast gap between what has been promised to the returnees and what is actually offered on ground.

The disgruntled returnees are virtually pushed to the wall and while this would have repercussions on the future of this policy, incomplete as it is without the participation of Pakistan establishment, it is the present plight of those who have tried to avail of this policy that is a matter of concern. Despite their repeated complaints and media reports highlighting the issue of them being virtually pushed to the wall, the government has done precious little to even seriously hear them out. The wives of the returned militants, bogged down by uncertainty and harassment have threatened to launch an agitation; the government should intervene before that happens. Also there is need to make the policy more effective by bringing into place a clear agreement between the Indian and the Pakistani government, once the ongoing elections are over. There are indications of a tacit understanding between the two sides, paving way for the return of returnees across the LoC, especially in view of the impenetrable quality of the borders without the go ahead from the two sides. This needs to be an official mechanism. The hush hush manner of an understanding is what jeopardizes the interests of the people who are expected to gain from the much publicised policy that so far only helps the government on this side to give some kind of a semblance of normalcy. But in its present shape and form, it only amounts to cheating with the very people it promises to help.