On a crisp September day in 2005 at the Wagah-Attari border, the flags of Pakistan and India were flying high, while the drums rolled on both sides to announce one of the largest prisoner exchanges between the two countries. On the ground standing in a neat line were prisoners from both countries, some with no shoes on their feet, waiting anxiously to reunite with their families.
The drummers on either side competed with one another to be louder, but the festive mood was not reflected in the eyes of the prisoners. They glared at the big gates dividing the two rival nations with disillusionment; most of them had spent a longer time in prison than their sentences required. Some had even developed mental illnesses as a result of their incarceration.
This prisoner exchange took place as part of the “confidence-building measures” between India’s then prime minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf.
Later in May 2008, a consular access agreement was signed, under which both countries are required to exchange lists of prisoners in each other’s custody, to provide timely consular access and prompt repatriation after the prisoners had completed their sentence. However, after the Mumbai attacks, the process suffered and prisoners continued to be…