Elahi is happy that his old prison mate Asif Ali Zardari is coming
to India but is crestfallen that he will not get to meet the
Pakistani president during his short visit Sunday. Elahi, a former
Indian spy, was Zardari's jail mate at the Karachi Central Jail
for a few months between 1986-87.
Elahi had decided that if he gets to meet Zardari he would request
the Pakistani president to release all the Indian prisoners of war
in Pakistani jails.
Elahi had served two decades in several Pakistani prisons from
1977-1996 on the charge of spying for India. He was Zardari's
prison mate along with several leaders of Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) in the Karachi Central Jail in 1986-87.
"I had been serving in the same prison along with Zardari and
Benazir Bhutto during the military rule in Pakistan under
Zia-ul-Haq. We used to meet Zardari on Sundays in the courtyard of
the jail," Elahi told IANS in an exclusive interview.
Elahi, a seasoned spy of the late 60s and 70s, had twice crossed
over to Pakistan - once via East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and
once via the western border. He recollected how he had developed a
good rapport with Zardari in prison.
"He (Zardari) used to talk about the political situation in
Pakistan, and the misrule and suppression of Zia. He had a strong
following inside the jail," he recalled.
According to Elahi, Zardari was "sympathetic" to the plight of
"Zardari was quite influential and he was sympathetic to Indian
POWs. The Indian POWs used to wash the clothes of Pakistani
prisoners and do menial chores for them. They would also do it for
Zardari, but Zardari was sympathetic to them. He would speak to
them, buy them soap and sweets," said Elahi.
Initially, Elahi spent nearly 10 years in Pakistan from 1968 to
1977 after spying in various government organisations, including
the Pakistani army and police.
The 52-year-old spy, who still bears the scars of Pakistani
torture all over his body, said during his stay in Pakistani jails
he came across hundreds of Indian POWs and fishermen who are
suffering in Pakistan for years.
"I have met hundreds of Indian prisoners there, most of them POWs.
Many of them have either gone mad or have lost their memory due to
inhuman torture. They can't even recollect their names."
He regretted that neither the Indian government nor the Indian
Army has done enough to bring the "real heroes" back home.
Elahi had written to the Pakistani High Commission in India
seeking an appointment with Zardari during his six-hour visit to
India, but did not receive a reply.
"I didn't get a reply from Pakistan high commission. But the sad
thing is that I had also written to the Indian president (Pratibha
Patil), but she too didn't reply. I am disheartened by this
indifference of both the countries towards the POWs."
Since his release in 1996, Elahi has been a voracious campaigner
for release of Indian POWs and prisoners. During the BJP-led NDA
rule he sat on a demonstration in New Delhi and even threatened to
commit suicide in front of parliament. The then defence and
foreign minister Jaswant Singh had assured him that the Indian
government was consistently taking up the issue with Pakistan.
"The Indian prisoners are tortured everyday, I was also tortured.
In 1996 there were around 1,335 prisoners. Now the figure may have
increased or decreased, but still there are several Indian POWs in
Pakistan," he said.
Elahi recollected how officers close to Zia tried to lure him with
money and promise of release in exchange for killing former
Pakistan prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was then
languishing in Lahore jail after a coup by the country's army.
"I was offered a blank cheque and a promise of release provided I
assassinate Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. But I refused to carry out the
Elahi is upset that in India "most Muslims are viewed with
"Muslims are patriots. They should not been seen with an eye of
suspicion. Muslims are ready to die for their motherland," said
Zardari will have lunch with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
followed by a one-on-one meeting, after which he will visit the
Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer and fly back in
(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)