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Hope kept me alive, says Kashmir Singh
March 04, 2008 12:06 IST
Last Updated: March 04, 2008 14:06 IST
After having languished in a Pakistani jail for about 35 years, Kashmir Singh on Tuesday crossed over to India to an emotional reunion with his wife at the Wagah border post.
The 67-year-old Indian had been arrested in 1973 in Pakistan on charges of espionage and was on the death row in a jail in Lahore [Images].
Singh, who was pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf [Images] on February 28, was given a lingering farewell on the Pakistani side of the border before he finally made his way into India.
Pakistan human rights minister Ansar Burney, who had traced Singh during a visit to Lahore's Central Jail as part of his work for prisoners' rights and jail reforms, was among the Pakistani delegation that accompanied him up to the border.
"I have no wishes left. I have got everything now. I thank President Pervez Musharraf and human rights minister Ansar Burney," Singh said as he arrived at the Wagah border where his wife Paramjit Kaur was waiting for him.
Singh, who was only 32-years-old when he was arrested in Rawalpindi, said, "A new life has begun for me and I am grateful to the people of Pakistan and to the Pakistani government".
He said the Indian government should consider similar steps for Pakistani prisoners.
Singh said he would want to go back to Pakistan, this time on a valid Indian passport, to lay a chadar at the shrine of Baba Farid.
White bearded and bald, Singh told reporters in Lahore before crossing over that it was 'hope' which kept him alive during incarceration.
Denying the charges of spying, Singh who was wearing a white shirt and grey trousers, said, "Yes, I was accused of espionage and smuggling. But I did not do anything of that sort and they found nothing on me when they arrested me".
An emotional Singh, who spent the night at a five-star hotel in Lahore after stepping out of Kot Lakhpath jail on Monday, said, "Hope keeps us alive. If there is no hope, then it would be difficult to live".
Singh was convicted of spying and sentenced to death by a military court in Lahore, but Burney said the government stayed his execution in the late 1970s.
Burney said, "We are very happy to be able to unite Singh with his family".
Before crossing over, Singh, who was garlanded, hugged members of the Pakistani delegation, especially Burney and his son.
There were not many people on the Pakistani side, but a large media contingent had come there to cover the event, that is being billed as a major step in fostering better relations between India and Pakistan.
Pakistani TV channels were beaming the scenes from the Wagah border live.
The Pakistani delegation clapped as Singh, a former Punjab police constable, finally began his walk to cross the gate at the Wagah border.
Indian officials at the border received him with bouquets and sweets were offered to him after he touched Indian soil.
Burney described the event as the planting of a tree of love, whose fruit could now be enjoyed by the people of both India and Pakistan.
"It is for the first time that a freed prisoner travelled in an official car carrying the Pakistani flag," he said.
He said while he was not laying any conditions, he hoped New Delhi would reciprocate with a similar gesture to Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails.
Immediately after touching his home soil, Singh was taken to a conference hall of the Border Security Force, where he met his family members.
Singh's 65-year-old wife had been struggling for his release since his arrest in 1973 and his subsequent conviction on espionage charges. She, along with some of her family members, has been camping in Amritsar since Friday, when it became known that her husband would be freed soon.
A mercy petition sent by Burney on behalf of Singh was accepted by Musharraf, who pardoned Singh and allowed him to return home.
Singh's children - Amarjit Singh, Shashpal Singh and Manjit Kaur - were just seven, three and one when he was arrested.