41 PoWs in Pak jails: Benazir to Rajiv
Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto had confirmed to the then Indian prime minister Late Rajiv Gandhi, the presence of at least 41 Indian prisoners of 1971 war detained in Pak. The PoW issue had figured in the discussions between Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister (late) Rajiv Gandhi during their meeting in Islamabad in December 1989. She had then also assured Mr Gandhi that she would "seriously look into their release".Updated: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had confirmed the presence of at least 41 Indian prisoners of the 1971 war detained in Pakistan.
The PoW issue had figured in the discussions between Bhutto and Indian Prime Minister (late) Rajiv Gandhi during their meeting in Islamabad in December 1989. She had then also assured Mr Gandhi that she would "seriously look into their release".
Bhutto had a fair knowledge of the issue even before she became prime minister. When her father Zulftkar Ali Bhutto was in jail awaiting the death sentence, prison officials were ensuring that his stay was as miserable as it could get. One of the means they adopted was to torture Indian PoWs held in the nearby cell and make them scream to disturb Bhutto in his sleep.
The events of those days, including the ones in which the Indian PoWs figured, was later to be made famous by a former BBC correspondent Victoria Schofield in her book, Bhutto: Trial and Execution. In the relevant passage of the book, she said: “Besides these conditions at Kot Lakhpat (jail), for three months Bhutto (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) was subjected to a peculiar kind of harassment, which he thought was especially for his benefit.
"His cell, separated from a barrack area by a 10-foot-high wall, did not prevent him from hearing horrific shrieks and screams at night from the other side of the wall. One of Mr Bhutto's lawyers made enquiries among the jail staff and ascertained that they were in fact Indian prisoners-of-war who had been rendered delinquent and mental during the course of the 1971 war.
"Bhutto, discovering the precise temperament of the inmates, wrote to the jail superintendent with a copy of the letter addressed to his lawyer (which was released to the press), requesting that they be moved, which finally they were. Obviously, the authorities would not accept that Mr Bhutto's sleep was being disturbed on purpose, but Bhutto did not forget the sleepless nights he spent and referred often to the lunatics in other letters of complaint. "Fifty odd lunatics were lodged in the ward next to mine. Their screams and shrieks in the dead of night are something I will not forget," he wrote."
Victoria Schofield was in Pakistan throughout Mr Bhutto's year-long appeal against the death sentence. She had particular reasons to follow the Bhutto story with interest, being a close friend of Benazir Bhutto. Needless to say, she had briefed and discussed all aspects of the book with Benazir before it was sent to the press.
For long, both Benazir and Schofield had maintained a studied silence, every time the PoW issue was brought up for discussion. Recently, however, breaking her silence on the subject, Schofield told a human rights activist MK Paul: "I had thought the matter (on the PoWs) was resolved between the two governments, but it appears that it is not the case. I shall make contacts with the Pakistani Defense Attaché to find out whether he has any further information".
First Published: Jan 13, 2004 17:44 IST