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Pakistani Girl Returns Home from India After Heart Surgery - 2003-08-01

A two-year-old Pakistani girl left India Friday to return home, after undergoing successful open heart surgery in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. The little girl has become a symbol of improving relations between India and Pakistan.

Noor Fatima won the hearts of Indians around the country. The little Pakistani girl with the big dark eyes and shy smile was on the front pages of Indian newspapers and on television as they followed her surgery and recovery. Hundreds of Indians sent cards, flowers and gifts and offered money to help pay for her treatment. School children prayed for her recovery.

Noor Fatima had two holes in her heart, and doctors in Pakistan advised her parents to take her to India for treatment. So she came with her parents last month, via the first bus to run between the Pakistani city of Lahore to New Delhi in the year and a half.

Transport links had been shut down as Indian-Pakistani relations reached a new low after India blamed Pakistani-backed militants for an attack on its parliament in December, 2001.

Speaking on Indian television before their return home, Noor's mother, Tayyuba Sajjad, said she initially had some concerns about coming here, but she says those evaporated quickly.

"I'm taking many pleasant memories back with me," she said. "I will tell people in my country that everyone in India was very good." She added, "I was scared when I came, but my fears were unfounded."

Relations between India and Pakistan have been on the mend recently. The two sides have restored full diplomatic ties. Bus service resumed last month and talks are underway to restart other transport links.

Little Noor became a symbol of that thaw in relations. In the wake of her visit, the Indian government said it would ease visa restrictions for Pakistani children seeking medical treatment in India and the government says it will finance the travel and treatment of another 20 Pakistani children needing medical attention.