Mehboob Elahi shared cell with the latter in Karachi Central Jail in the late 1980s

Having once stayed with Asif Ali Zardari in the Karachi Central Jail, Mehboob Elahi, a former India spy, was keen to meet the Pakistani President during his visit to Delhi on Sunday to raise the issue of Indian prisoners of war languishing in jails across the border.

Mr. Elahi says he wrote to Shahid Malik, Pakistan High Commissioner in India, and President Pratibha Patil seeking appointment with Mr. Zardari to draw his attention to the Indian prisoners' plight but did not get any reply.

The 52-year-old, who had spent two decades in several Pakistani prisons from 1977 after being caught spying for India, had stayed together in the Pakistani jail with Mr. Zardari for two-three months in the late 1980s. “On Sundays, I used to meet him and other leaders of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in their cells. He was not only familiar with the issues of PoWs, but was also sympathetic to us,” Mr. Elahi, who now stays in Kolkata, told PTI.

Recalls generosity

The former spy recalls that Mr. Zardari and other leaders were generous to him and used to offer him coffee, fruits and biscuits besides arranging for soaps and oil.

“In Pakistani jails, PoWs are kept under inhuman conditions. They are not even given basic facilities to keep them alive. We have to survive somehow,” Mr. Elahi said.

Pointing out that there are hundreds of Indian PoWs living a life of complete neglect and deprivation, Mr. Elahi said he wanted to request Mr. Zardari to release those Indian prisoners who had completed their jail terms.

“And those who are serving their terms now should be treated fairly inside the jails. They are made to clean drains and toilets. Subject to inhuman torture, many of them die or lose their memory. PoWs are not treated the way it is shown in films,” the spy said alleging that the Indian government had ignored the issue.

“So my hope was from Mr. Zardari as we had stayed together in the jail and he knows me. We used to discuss the political upheaval in Pakistan,” Mr. Elahi said.

Spying for India in the Pakistani Army and police, Mr. Elahi has crossed over to the Pakistan side in 1968, but was caught 10 years later.

“When I was released in 1996, I promised my fellow prisoners that I will spend the rest of my life in fighting for their rights,” Mr. Elahi, now an active campaigner for the rights of PoWs, said.

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