Playing the last song of hope, PoW families head for Pakistan

By Murali Krishnan


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New Delhi : For Damayanti Tambay, whose husband went missing after he took off on a fighter aircraft at the height of the 1971 war, it will be an uneasy trip down memory lane when she leaves for Pakistan Friday.

"My last visit there was in December 1983 and I managed to visit just one jail in Multan. Let's see how this visit plays out," said the woman who has lived in agonising uncertainty ever since that day 36 years ago when her husband, flight lieutenant Vijay Vasant Tambay, left for the war.

Now, the sports deputy director of the Jawaharlal Nehru University undertakes another journey along with a dozen other relatives of Indian prisoners of war (PoWs) who went missing during the war with Pakistan.

Unsure of what to expect, they will arrive in Islamabad on June 1 for a 10-day tour of several prisons to verify for themselves if some of the soldiers might still be languishing in Pakistan's jails.

"We would like to meet all the prisoners there but I know there could be a problem of identification. It has been an awfully long time," a composed Tambay told IANS.

The visit follows a surprise invitation earlier this year from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who personally invited the families to look for the men in his country's jails as part of a confidence building measure. The announcement was made soon after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's maiden visit to Pakistan in January.

"Many years after the war, relatives heard of the presence of the PoWs in Pakistani prisons through media reports, photographs and letters. Obviously, it is satisfying to visit the jails and check out everything personally," she added.

This could also be the last hope for Dr B.K. Suri, whose brother Major A.K Suri has been missing since 1971.

According to Tambey, the family had received two letters in 1975 from Major Suri informing them that he was in a Pakistani prison.

"Some of the pilots who went missing appeared in an issue of Time magazine a long time back. Others heard of the PoWs through radio. I mean it is obviously going to be an emotionally wrenching trip, looking for your loved ones who might not be there," she said.

The delegation is expected to visit about 10 places, including Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi.

India has for long maintained that 54 soldiers and officers were missing from that 1971 war while Pakistan has stoutly denied holding any of them as PoWs.

Tambay vividly recounts the words of her husband just before he left for the war on Dec 3, 1971, "I may return, I may not return. Take care of your self".

Those words have kept her going all these years. Now, Tambay heads off on a perhaps a troubled journey, not quite knowing what to expect.