Indian held in Pakistan returns home

India Pakistan Convict
Kashmir Singh poses with his wife Paramjit Kaur after crossing the border into India on Tuesday.Aman Sharma / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Indian man who spent 35 years in Pakistani prisons as an accused spy walked across the border to freedom Tuesday, an unconditional release that Pakistan said was meant to reduce the deep-rooted enmity between the countries.

Kashmir Singh, now bald, white-bearded and his 60s, had tears in his eyes when he entered India and was greeted by his wife and son. His wife, Paramjeet Kaur, offered him flowers and fed him a sweet, a traditional Indian expression of happiness.

"I have got a new life," Singh said before stepping across the border gate.

The rival South Asian countries have arrested many of each other's citizens, including fishermen and others who say they accidentally strayed across the border. Some are imprisoned for years on espionage charges, usually with no contact with their families.

India says there are some 600 other Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails. Pakistan said there are some 200 of its nationals in Indian jails.

Pakistani officials said they hoped Singh's freedom would lead to more releases.

"There was no bargain. This is a bargain of love. In love, there are no conditions," said Pakistan Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney, who was instrumental in securing Singh's release and escorted him across the border. "This has shown the world that Pakistan is a humane nation."

The two men hugged for a long time before Singh was handed over to Indian police officials, who put their palms together in a gesture of thanks for several minutes.

'It doesn't matter what his crime was'
Such expressions of friendship are rare between officials of the two nations, which have fought three wars in the 60 years since gaining independence from Britain.

Singh was arrested in 1973 when he was 26. The former policeman from the Indian state of Punjab had become a trader in electronic goods, and he was detained during a business trip to the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

Singh on Tuesday acknowledged going to Pakistan without a passport, admitting it was a mistake.

He was convicted of spying and sentenced to death by a military court. The government commuted Singh's execution in the late 1970s but the case languished. Burney learned of Singh in December and began working for his release, finally persuading President Pervez Musharraf to grant clemency.

"It doesn't matter what his crime was. He spent 35 years in prison. It was too long," said Burney. "We have sent a good message to India and hope they will reciprocate and free Pakistani prisoners."

Singh is very happy, not bitter
Singh was freed from a prison in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday, and spent the night in a luxury hotel. On Tuesday, he was driven by Pakistani authorities to the India-Pakistan land border. He walked the final feet to freedom carrying a plastic bag that contained his meager belongings.

"I am very happy today," said his wife, Kaur. "I have been through bad times in bringing up my three children single-handedly. But I am looking forward to a new dawn."

Singh was then taken to his home in the nearby village of Hoshiarpur.

He said he held no bitterness toward Pakistan.

"I have no regrets for anything that happened to me," Singh said. "I have got a new life. It is my heartfelt wish that Pakistan remains peaceful and stable."