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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Emotional scenes on the Indian border
By Asit Jolly
BBC correspondent at the Wagah border crossing

It was an unprecedented and emotional moment.

Mohammad Arif being welcomed by family
Mohammad Arif's wife gave him up as dead and remarried.

After five years in captivity, Jagsir Singh and Mohammed Arif arrived in India from prison in Pakistan to be greeted by their family and a flurry of journalists.

It was if they were returning from the dead.

Both soldiers of the Indian Army, they were taken prisoner by Pakistani troops in the Kargil sector of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Unbearable strain

Because their capture was not recorded, they were listed as 'deserters' when they failed to return to their unit.

Disgraced by what they were alleged to have done, the families of each man were forced to bear great hardship including constant harassment by police.

Jagsir Singh with his daughter
It was the first time that Jagsir Singh met his daughter

So unbearable was the strain endured by Jagsir Singh's father, he died a broken man while his son was in captivity.

Similarly, Mohammed Arif's mother died pining to see her favourite, younger son again.

But on Monday the two men were able to cast aside allegations of desertion by dramatically walking into India as released prisoners of war rather than returning deserters.

They were greeted with the same kind of euphoria that Nelson Mandela received after his walk out of prison.

Only a few months ago, the Pakistan Army finally acknowledged that they had been taken prisoner after the Kargil war of 1999.

Up until then, their imprisonment had been denied.

Sweets and garlands

Shortly afterwards, Jagsir Singh was allowed to write a letter to his mother from his cell in Rawalpindi's Adiala Jail.

It was the sort of beyond-the-grave story normally associated with fiction, and explains why they were accorded a hero's welcome on Monday.

Received at the Zero Line by senior army and Border Security Force officers, the two Indians were sent home with gifts of sweets and rose garlands by their captors in Pakistan.

Smiling in delight, they walked the last few steps home to a series of emotional and tear-filled bear-hugs by impatient family members.

Jagsir Singh with his daughter
The servicemen were ushered away by waiting officials

Jagsir Singh's mother, Chhoto Kaur, embraced her son so tightly it looked like she would never let him go.

Finally free from his mother's clutches, the returning serviceman was able for the first time to behold his young daughter, Saroj.

A little girl now, Saroj was born nearly a month after Jagsir's Singh's capture.

Also there to greet him was his wife, Jaswinder Singh, her cheeks flowing with tears of happiness.

Remarried

He had been absent for so long that she had been forced to leave Saroj with her mother-in-law and return to her family.

But of the blue last week she received a letter from her husband in Pakistan. It said that he would be coming home soon.

"I never imagined it would be so soon," Jaswinder said.

For Mohammed Arif, Monday's homecoming was no less emotional.

Besides learning about the death of his mother, the soldier also bravely dealt with the news that his wife had given him up as dead and had remarried.

It was amid these powerful emotions that the two soldiers were whisked away by military officials for what was described as "a detailed de-briefing session."

A senior army official deputed to receive the soldiers said the circumstances of their capture and the apparent mistake in declaring them deserters would be the subjected to a comprehensive inquiry.

Earlier in the day, the Indian authorities also released and repatriated a Pakistani soldier, Saleem Ali Shah, and three Pakistani civilian nationals.

It is likely that there were similar scenes of jubilation there as well: all very unusual for a part of the world where the ongoing conflict has meant that such delirious happiness is not often seen.



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