The Kashmiri boy who refused to leave police custody

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Iftikhar AhmadImage source, Ansar Burney Trust
Image caption,
Iftikhar's parents disagree over whether he was adopted

A four-year-old boy has become the centre of a controversy between India and Pakistan - and between his father and mother.

Iftikhar Ahmad was in police custody, in a cell in Ganderbal town, near Srinagar, in India-administered Kashmir, for the last five days.

He hadn't been arrested - but his father, Gulzar Ahmad Tantray, had - and Iftikhar refused to leave without him.

Mr Tantray, who grew up in a village in Ganderbal, crossed over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1990, allegedly for arms training at the peak of the insurgency against Indian rule.

He returned to India-administered Kashmir last Thursday along with Iftikhar, and was taken into police custody on Friday.

Mr Tantray was released on bail late on Tuesday, and he and Iftikhar left police custody.

However, Rohina Kayani, Iftikhar's mother in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has accused her husband of kidnapping the child and running away to the Indian side.

Mr Tantray's family has denied the charges.

In fact, the two sides can't even agree whether Mr Tantray is Iftikhar's biological father or not.

The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi explains the different sides of the story.

Mother Rohina Kayani's story

Rohina Kayani says she married Mr Tantray in 2002 and as the couple did not have any biological children, they adopted Iftikar in January 2012.

"I lost several members of my family during the devastating earthquake in 2005. Among the dead was my favourite brother, Iftikhar, so I named my baby after him," she told BBC Urdu's Aurangzeb Saifullah at her home in Muzaffarabad, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"The child brought immense joy to our lives," she said.

But, the happiness did not last.

Image source, Ansar Burney Trust
Image caption,
Rohina Kayani calls Iftikhar her "only hope"

"On 12 March my husband took away the child saying he was going to attend a wedding in Haripur, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [in Pakistan]. He said they would return in the evening."

However, he did not return, and by the next day, his phone was switched off. When a three-day frantic search yielded nothing, she called her husband's parents in Ganderbal.

"That's when I found out that he had arrived in the Kashmir Valley via Dubai. I have no idea when and how he arranged travel documents for himself and the child."

She has now lodged a complaint at the local police station in Muzaffarabad, accusing her husband of kidnapping their child.

"I think I'll never be able to see my child again," she says, tears rolling down her cheeks. "He was my only hope. Now he's been taken away from me."

Pakistan-based human rights activist Ansar Burney has written letters to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian high commission in Islamabad, urging them to restore Iftikhar to his mother as soon as possible.

"This is trafficking," he told the BBC. "If the child has a Pakistani passport, shouldn't he be brought back to Pakistan?

"The child's welfare is paramount. I think a mother is the mother, whether she gave birth to him or adopted him and nurtured him. He should be returned home as soon as possible."

The Tantray family defence

As Gulzar Ahmad Tantray has been in police custody for the past few days, BBC Hindi's Majid Jahangir met his father Mohd Maqbool Tantray at his home in Saloora village, Ganderbal district.

"How can a father kidnap his own child?" asked Tantray senior, adding that the charges against his son were "totally false".

"My grandson loves his father a lot so he came here with him," he said.

Image source, Aurangzeb Saifullah
Image caption,
Gulzar Ahmad Tantray with his wife and child

Gulzar Ahmad Tantray is thought to have been among thousands of Kashmiri youths who began crossing over to the Pakistani side after 1988 to join militant training camps and fight for freedom from India.

Since November 2010, when the Indian government announced "a policy to allow for return of ex-militants to Jammu and Kashmir state", hundreds have returned home to the valley, many of them with families.

Mr Tantray's family denies that Iftikhar is adopted.

His brother, Zubair, told The Indian Express newspaper that Gulzar had two wives in Pakistan and Iftikhar is his child from the second wife who is now dead.

Rohina Kayani, he says, is the child's stepmother, and that is why his brother decided to bring the boy with him.

Police 'at a loss'

The controversy has highlighted just how separate India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir are.

The region has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan since it was split in 1949 - and direct travel between the two sides is not possible.

What should police in Ganderbal have done with a four-year-old who refused to leave their custody and who reportedly refused to go with his father's family because he was not familiar with any of them?

The boy was not charged with any offence, officers told BBC Hindi's Majid Jahangir.

However, they were at a loss about what to do with him.

"How can we arrest a four-year-old boy. He is allowed to go anywhere. But he doesn't want to leave," the paper quoted police official Asif Iqbal as saying.

That problem was finally resolved when Mr Tantray was granted bail on Tuesday night.