The apex court in the country has admitted a five-year-old petition seeking repatriation of around 300,000 “stranded Pakistanis” — mostly Biharis based in former East Pakistan when it seceded from Pakistan to become independent Bangladesh but never made it to Pakistan because of financial constraints, hence remaining stranded in a country that refuses to own them and largely forgotten by a country they opted for.
Court sources said yesterday Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Jilani has fixed the petition filed by the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee of Bangladesh, through its president Jabbar Khan, on the repatriation of Pakistanis living in subhuman conditions in 70 camps set up across Bangladesh.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprising Justice Amir Muslim and Justice Ijaz Ahmad, will take up the plea on May 13.
Rashidul Haq, the lawyer for Jabbar, said the petition was moved in 2009 under Article 184(3) of the Constitution but was returned by the court registrar, saying that the applicant should approach the proper forum instead. Later, the attorney had challenged the registrar’s objection, but the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry did not fix the matter.
Last month, Jilani heard the appeal in the chambers against the registrar’s objection, after which he rejected the objection and decided to fix the case for regular hearing.
“My plea is very simple: the top court should direct the government to implement the Tripartite Agreement between India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for the Normalisation of Relations in the Subcontinent signed in April 9, 1974,” Haq says. “What is their mistake? That they are Pakistanis and remain committed to it, hoist Pakistan’s flag and recite its national anthem in the camps, while living in subhuman conditions,” says Haq adding that he has submitted CDs, which show the state of lives of stranded Pakistanis.
In 1978, General Ziaul Haq met a delegation, led by the mayor of Karachi, and assured it that the “stranded Biharis” will be soon brought to Pakistan. As late as March 1994, the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka released a list it had compiled of the stranded persons awaiting repatriation.
On November 12, 1991, the Government of Pakistan announced that the process of repatriation “would be expedited”. But at the end of Begum Khalida Zia’s visit to Pakistan, it was announced on August 11, 1992 that stranded Pakistanis will be airlifted to the country. In the same month, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his Bangladeshi counterpart repeated these assurances but no tangible action took place.
In fact, about 50,000 of these refugees were eventually brought to Pakistan with the help of the Motamar al Alam al Islami (the World National Congress) and were settled in Punjab. In 2006, a report estimated that between 240,000 and 300,000 Biharis still live in 66 crowded camps in Dhaka and 13 other regions across Bangladesh.
On May 19, 2008, the Dhaka High Court granted second-generation Biharis, who were born in the camps, the right to Bangladesh citizenship. — Internews