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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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May 15, 2014

Pakistan Supreme Court case highlights
plight of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has finally admitted for hearing a petition filed in 2009 seeking repatriation of around 230,000 stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh.

The petition was filed by Advocate Rashid-ul-Haq Qazi as a representative of the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee and the Organization for Repatriation of Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk issued a notice to Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to respond to the issues raised in the petition.

When the case was taken up on May 14, Advocate Qazi, informed the court that approximately 160,000 stranded Pakistanis were repatriated to Pakistan in accordance with the Tripartite Delhi Agreement, signed between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but later on, Pakistan has failed to fulfill 25 percent of the terms of agreement and the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis was stopped unilaterally by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime in 1974. 

Speaking about the last repatriation of stranded Pakistanis, he said it was on January 10, 1993 that a group of 325 stranded Pakistanis was repatriated and and rehabilitated in Mian Chunnu and Muzaffargarh in Punjab during the previous government of Nawaz Sharif.

He argued that the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh had declined to accept the nationality of India or Bangladesh due to their patriotic allegiance to Pakistan.

Who are stranded Pakistanis?

Stranded Pakistanis, also known as Biharis, stood for a united Pakistan and refused to integrate into the new country. Hence, Bengalis, the original residents of Bangladesh, were not ready to forgive them because of their opposition to the creation of the new state.

According to Refugees International Organization, Bangladesh is home to some 200,000 Urdu speaking minorities who during the country’s civil war with Pakistan took the side of Pakistan, losing their homes, jobs and positions in society and were forced eventually to take up residence in more than 100 overcrowded and now dilapidated urban camp settlements. Many of the Urdu speaking minority hoped to be permitted to move to Pakistan, but only a small percentage were admitted; some continue to cling to the hope that Pakistan will relent and admit them to reunite with their families in Pakistan. 

For almost 43 years, the camp residents remain stateless, non citizens of Bangladesh or Pakistan.  They were denied access to government services, including education, formal employment, property ownership, and driver’s licenses.  

In 2008, a Bangladesh Supreme Court decision recognized their nationality rights. A large percentage of the adults were registered to vote in the 2009 election. Despite being registered as voters and recognized as citizens, many Urdu speakers still were unable to obtain government jobs, access credit, get passports or obtain compensation for their property confiscated during the war.

Ironically neither the United Nations nor the International Red Cross and Crescent Society recognize them as refugees. They have been denied refugee status because they are not considered displaced people. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has not addressed the plight of the Biharis.

Subhuman living conditions

The camps where these stranded people are staying for almost four decades are the classic examples of subhuman living that has hardly any difference with animal life. Dingy and stinky atmosphere, merger of both water and sewerage lines, lack of latrines and clean water are constant threats to health.

Malnutrition of children in absence of proper food and medicine threatens their usual physical growth on one hand and absence of education turns them into dark generation on the other. Illiteracy rate is 94%.

Each family has been given one room — 6 feet by 6 feet. But who wants to know that these families have grown in size over the years. Sometimes, 10 people live in one room, spanning three generations.

Wars and conflicts have displaced millions of people around the world, but those who flee such conflicts normally receive international attention and extensive media coverage. Internecine fighting among Afghan groups or conflicts in the Horn of Africa have drawn world reaction with aid agencies and UNHCR scrambling to help them. In the case of the stranded Pakistanis, if anybody knows, nobody has bothered to help alleviate their sufferings.

In due course most of the people of Pakistan also forgot about these stranded Pakistanis who were being projected as patriots during the 1971 war and its immediate aftermath. These “patriots” of 1971 are now considered as “pariahs” by Pakistan that has stopped owning them as it fears that, on migration, they would settle in Sindh province and join the ethnic political ranks of Mohajirs (the Urdu speaking people who migrated from India to Pakistan after independence in 1947.) The stranded Pakistanis or Biharis are trapped between the conflicting histories and ideologies of the South Asian sub-continent.

Read also:

What led to the break-up of Pakistan?

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (  He is the author of Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America (Amazon 2012) and Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality (1996).