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Indian Prisoner Held for Spying in Pakistan for 35 Years, Returns Home

  • Anjana Pasricha

An Indian prisoner who spent 35 years on death row in a Pakistan jail has returned to India, after being granted clemency by Pakistani authorities. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi his return is being seen as a symbol of a gradual improvement in ties between the once-bitter South Asian rivals.

Kashmir Singh stepped across the Wagah border, between India and Pakistan, to a hero's welcome from family members, Indian officials and scores of onlookers.

Singh, a short, balding man, in his 60's, was escorted to the border by Pakistani Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney, who played a key role in his release.

Singh was arrested in Pakistan in 1973, convicted of spying and sentenced to death by a military court. The Pakistani government later stayed his execution.

Pakistan and India frequently arrest each other's citizens - often when they stray across land or sea borders. Some cases date back to the 1970s - a period when hostilities ran deep after the rivals fought two wars.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered his release on humanitarian grounds.

Singh's is one of the most dramatic stories that has come to light.

Singh lost touch with his family soon, after his imprisonment, as he was shuttled from prison to prison. He never received a visitor during his 35 years in confinement.

Hours after his release from jail, he told reporters he would not be able to recognize his children, whom he last saw as toddlers.

Singh says he left his daughter and two sons when they were about one, three and six years old.

Pakistani minister Burney says he searched for Singh in many prisons, across the country, after being told of his case. He finally located him in a Lahore jail.

Burney told reporters the prisoner's release is a matter of pride and honor for Pakistan.

Singh's return to India is being seen as another symbol of the slow improvement in relations between India and Pakistan since they launched a peace process in 2004. The sides have not made much headway in solving their political disputes, but they have restored transportation links and sporting and cultural contacts.

The thaw has prompted the two countries to hold a series of prisoner exchanges, in recent years - mainly of fishermen who were detained after straying into each other's territorial waters.

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