Kashmir border-crossing boys handed back to Pakistan

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Faisal Hussain Awan (R) and Ahsan Khurshid (L)Image source, Other
Image caption,
Ahsan Khurshid (L) and Faisal Awan (R) had been held in India since September

India has returned to Pakistan two boys who strayed across the de facto border in disputed Kashmir and were then accused of links to a militant attack.

The boys were handed over at the Wagha border near Lahore and met their families, a Pakistani official said.

Indian officials detained them days after 19 soldiers were killed in the assault on a military base in Uri, in Indian-administered Kashmir.

But investigators subsequently cleared them of any involvement.

The Uri base assault on 18 September, involving gunmen armed with grenades, was the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in years. It led to a spike in tensions between India and Pakistan.

Indian officials initially suspected Ahsan Khurshid and Faisal Awan had acted as guides for militants belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad Pakistan-based militant group, Indian media reports said.

But a spokesman for India's National Investigation Agency announced last week that their probe "did not reveal any linkage of the suspects with the Uri attackers".

The teenagers had crossed over to the Indian side after a fight with their parents over their studies, he said.

Speaking to the BBC's Aurangzeb Jarral ahead of her son's release, Ahsan's mother Raqeeba Bibi said she was very happy. "I always said that my son was innocent. It has been proved now," she said.

She said her son had told her he was planning to go for a picnic at a Sufi shrine called Pir Kanthi, which is close to the Line of Control (the de facto border), before he was detained.

Ahsan's uncle Chaudhry Qasim told the BBC he wanted both countries to "please make sure to find the truth before declaring each other's nationals 'terrorists', because it causes a lot of pain and misery to the concerned families".

Reports suggest Indian officials now believe a different Pakistan-based militant group was behind the attack. Pakistan has denied any link to it.

The territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Muslim-majority Kashmir has been running for decades. Both claim the territory in its entirety but control only parts of it. There has been an armed insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir since 1989.

India has long accused Pakistan of supporting the militant groups. Pakistan rejects this and says India has not shown evidence to support its claims.