India Jammu & Kashmir 
Ex-Kashmiri militant’s Pak wife returns home, says ‘God heard my prayers’

Adil Akhzer | 02/10/2023

Saira Javaid, in purple shawl, who married a Kashmiri man when he had gone for arms training to Pakistan in the 1990s. Image: Shuaib Masoodi

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An AwaazSouthAsia exclusive

For years Pakistani citizen Saira Javaid was the face of an unusual protest in Kashmir. Married to a Kashmiri militant who had crossed the Line of Control in the 1990s for arms training in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Saira finally accompanied her homesick husband back to Kashmir in 2007.

The couple and their two children had arrived in India with valid Pakistani passports and visas, but soon, Saira wanted to return to Karachi. To her dismay, she found out she could not.

Nearly 16 years later this June, the authorities finally stamped her Pakistani passport with an exit stamp, making her the first among the hundreds of Pakistani women married to former Kashmiri militants to go home in recent years.

“I don’t have the words to express my feelings. I was living like a prisoner all these years,” said Saira, who entered Pakistan through the Wagah border in Amritsar.  

Elated on reuniting with her family after more than a decade, Saira told over the phone from Karachi, “I am relieved that I am back with my family.”

Though back in Pakistan now, Saira is one of the 350 Pakistani women living in Kashmir in similar circumstances. All of them are married to Kashmiri men who had crossed over to Pakistan for arms training in the 1990s. For years, they have been demanding that they either be deported or given travel documents to visit home. They have held a series of protests in Srinagar to make their voices heard.

Most of 350 Pakistani women came to Kashmir under an amnesty and rehabilitation scheme announced by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 2010 for Kashmiri militants who had crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK).

Saira, however, came to Kashmir three years before the rehab policy was announced by the government. She had married Javaid Ahmad Dar in 2001 in Rawalpindi. Javaid had crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1999 for weapons training in the camps set up by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to prepare Kashmiri youth to fight an insurgency against India.

Javaid says he had a change of heart and soon decided to quit. He instead started working as a driver in Pakistan to lead a “normal life”.

Just like Saira, Javaid also longed to be with his family in Kashmir’s Kupwara.

In 2007, the couple arrived in India on a Pakistani passport with valid visas at a time when India and Pakistan were discussing a peace proposal in Kashmir and the bilateral relations were reasonably good.

It is unclear if Saira and Javaid knew what would entail soon after their return to Kupwara. For Saira, Pakistan was home, and she expected to return as their visas allowed them to stay in India only for a month.

Javaid told that their visa was only for Delhi, but the whole purpose of the trip was to visit his family in Kashmir, so they went anyway, violating the terms of the visa.

The Dar family, said Saira, made a pre-emptive move that changed how the trip would turn out.

“As soon as I arrived, they (her in-laws) snatched my passport and tore it up,” alleges Saira. “They wanted us to stay here forever.”

As Saira, Javaid and their children spent time in Kashmir, the security agencies came to know of their presence, and they were booked under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act (penalty for entry in restricted areas) and sent to jail.

“It took us several years to get the court clearance,” says Saira.

By the time they were acquitted by the courts, the J&K government had announced a rehabilitation scheme for the men who had crossed over to Pakistan and wanted to return to the valley to lead a peaceful life. Hundreds of men and their Pakistani wives had already arrived in the Kashmir valley, most of them illegally, through Nepal.

The rehabilitation policy did not work out well as the men were unable to find jobs and their children faced problems getting admission in schools.

As the Pakistani women yearned for home, Saira made common cause with them. They began protesting publicly and demanding their return to Pakistan. Saira became one of the leaders of the protest, setting up a WhatsApp group for better communication and solidarity.

They demanded that they either be deported or granted travel documents to enable them to meet their family members in Pakistan.

While she continued her fight, she provided a source of livelihood to a few Pakistani wives of former militants at her boutique (selling suits) in Kupwara.

“All of us faced the same misery. The problems persist for them. The families of our husbands did not accept us and there were regular fights in almost every family,” she says.

Soon after Saira received her new Pakistani passport in 2018, she left Javaid's house and travelled to the Wagah border along with her kids from where she intended to travel to Karachi.

However, she was in for another setback when she was turned away by officials at the Wagah border and asked to get an “exit” stamp from the foreigners’ registration office in Jammu and Kashmir.

For her, it was the beginning of another long struggle, one that would take five more years to resolve.

“After a long struggle, I was given an exit stamp in June and I crossed into my country finally,” says Saira, “I am probably the first such case of a Pakistan-origin woman who has been allowed to go back home in recent years legally.”

Now, Saira does not want to return to Kashmir any sooner, but wants her husband to join her in Pakistan.

“I don’t know if I would go back to Kashmir,” Saira says. “I will be happy if he comes here.”

Her reunion with her family in Karachi was emotional, she says. “I know what it means to be separated from the family. I watched my father’s last rites being performed in Pakistan online. Everyone was in tears when we were reunited recently. I was thankful to God who heard my prayers and reunited me with my family,” she says.

Back in Kupwara, Javaid now manages the boutique started by Saira.

“She wanted to go back and meet her family, but I expect her to return in the coming months if the government issues her a visa,” said Javaid.

A senior J&K police officer confirmed to that the woman had been allowed to go back to Pakistan along with her children.

“She has gone back legally along with her children,” said an officer privy to the case, adding that the husband is in Kashmir. But it remains unclear if her return is a one-off case or part of a decision to start allowing Pakistani wives of former militants to go back to their country.

When Saira left Kashmir, her friend Bushra Farooq accompanied her to the Wagah border to see her off. Bushra is from POK and arrived in Kashmir with her Kashmiri husband, a former militant, in 2012.

“I cried when I bid her goodbye. I was metres away from my country, yet I could not go home,” she said.

Bushra came to Kashmir in 2012 with their two children. In 2019, the couple got divorced. She does tailoring work to take care of her children.

“It was the biggest mistake to come here,” she said. “I am sure a day will come when I will meet my family again in Pakistan.”

Another woman Nusrat Rashid from Muzaffarabad in POK echoes Bushra. She also got divorced in 2020. “Since Saira is now with her parents, it has given us some hope. We are eagerly waiting for the day when we will meet our family members across the border.”

Quick facts:

In 2010, the then-state government announced a surrender and rehabilitation policy for J&K youths who had crossed the Line of Control to receive arms training in Pakistan. “Those who had gone to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or Pakistan between January 1, 1989, and December 31, 2009, and their dependents were eligible for consideration.”

In 2017, the then-state government of Jammu and Kashmir had told the Legislative Assembly that “377 former militants along with 864 family members had returned from Pakistan via Nepal and Bangladesh since 2010”.

In 2020, two Pakistani wives of former militants contested the District Development Council (DDC) elections.  As the result was about to be announced, the authorities put it on hold after complaints about their disputed nationality. In 2022, the State Election Commission declared the DDC polls for the two seats “null and void”.

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