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|Childish behavior--Pakis & Indians need a life|
|04/09/01 at 22:58:09|
|Pakistan's goodwill poet trapped in Indian exile|
By Peter Popham in Delhi
10 April 2001
Aftab Husain, a poet and a man of goodwill, is trapped between India and Pakistan: wanted by neither, trusted by neither, fearing what the secret agents on one side or the other might try to do to him.
The Pakistani poet, who is trying to obtain political asylum in India, is a victim of the deteriorating relations between the two neighbours after making an ill-fated goodwill gesture to the Indian government.
"I wanted to do my bit for friendly relations between the two countries," he said. "On the contrary, I have been made a victim of their conflict and hostility."
In February 1999, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, travelled to Lahore in Pakistan to inaugurate the first bus service between the two countries. The "bus diplomacy" was designed to break the ice in Indo-Pakistani relations.
Mr Vajpayee followed it up with the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Minar-i- Pakistan the symbol of the Pakistani nation and an eloquent, emotional speech at the residence of the Governor of the Punjab, declaring a new beginning for the two old enemies.
Amid the hoopla and the brotherly effusions, Mr Husain presented Mr Vajpayee with a copy of the latter's poems, translated into Urdu and published in Lahore by Mr Husain on the eve of Mr Vajpayee's visit. Opinions differ on the Indian PM's calibre as a poet.
"There are two as good as him in any bazaar," was one of the unkinder comments passed in Delhi at the time. Mr Husain said: "I presented the book to him as a goodwill gesture not because I am an admirer of his poems but because he represents the Indian people."
Unfortunately for Mr Husain, only three months after Mr Vajpayee's visit Pakistan was found to have infiltrated Indian territory in the mountains around Kargil in Kashmir, and a bitter mountain war ensued, which stopped the budding peace process in its tracks. It has yet to recover.
Then, in October 1999, the Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, was removed from power in a bloodless coup. Two months later, Aftab Husain began to receive unwelcome visitors.
"My giving Vajpayee the book was taken very positively by the Pakistan government at the time," he recalled, "But after the coup different security agencies began harassing me, asking me why I had published it. They thought it was a move to glorify Vajpayee as a poet and an intellectual - part of a campaign of glorification.
"This started in December 1999. In the beginning they were mild, but then they became furious. They came to my residence and also approached my writer friends to find out about me because I had Indian friends.
"I was given an ultimatum. It was a carrot-and-stick policy. They wanted me to write something against Nawaz Sharif. They said, 'You can get something now from this government. But if you do not agree, there will be some harm to you.'
"Then, on 4 March, while I was away, they raided my house and ransacked it, ill-treated and manhandled my mother and brother. I am not a supporter either of Nawaz Sharif or of Benazir Bhutto - but Nawaz Sharif was nothing to do with the book, so how could I write against him?"
Mr Husain told his family to go back to their former home in the countryside for safety, and he fled to India by train. On 10 May last year he applied for political asylum.
Ten months later, he was informed that the Indian government had decided not to grant his request. He was told to explore the possibilities of going to "any third country" by the end of March. Since arriving in India - where he has no blood relatives - he has repeatedly approached the Prime Minister's office and other influential people for help.
He has been given short-term extensions of his visitor's visa, but neither asylum nor even a work permit. Meanwhile, as in Pakistan, he began to receive visits from intelligence agents. He refused to co-operate.
"They can go to any extent," he said. "They can even assassinate me and put the blame on the ISI [Pakistani military intelligence]. I thought I would be able to live in India because we have cultural affinities and this is a secular country. I could heave a sigh of relief and feel free. But now I think the military in Pakistan is better because it is naked.
"Here they are disguised as democrats but they are autocrats. I don't know what this government wants from me. They want to treat me as a plaything."
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