KARACHI, Pakistan -- A Pakistani court on Thursday rejected a petition to send back to India a deaf-mute woman who lost her family when she wandered over one of the world's most militarised borders as a child, saying the two nations should resolve the issue diplomatically.
Geeta, a Hindu woman now in her early 20s, was around 11 years old when she inadvertently crossed the border from India to Pakistan.
It was a mistake that would lead to a long search for her family that captivated the public after a hit film with a similar plot was released last month.
In August, an Indian lawyer filed an application with a Pakistani provincial court through local lawyers, asking that the court invoke a law that allows a judge "to compel restoration of abducted females".
“The issue in hand is to be resolved with consent of both the countries,” the court order read.
Geeta performing rituals at a women's shelter run the Edhi Foundation in Karachi.
The judge said it was for the government of India to decide whether Geeta was an Indian national and hence it was outside the court's jurisdiction to order sending her back to India.
Relations between the South Asian powers have been frosty following a series of incidents of cross-border firing in which dozens have died on both sides.
Geeta's plight resonates with some on another level as well. Hostilities have kept apart many families who were separated when majority-Hindu India and majority-Muslim Pakistan became separate countries in 1947. The neighbours have fought three wars since the partition.
Thursday's ruling was the first blow to hopes in both countries that Geeta's story will have a happy ending. Since stumbling into Pakistan, Geeta has lived in a home for lost and abandoned children, say officials at the charitable Edhi Foundation.
Indian High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan has visited Geeta at the Edhi centre in Karachi and said he would do everything in his power to take her back to India.
The movie "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" was released last month. Superstar Salman Khan plays an Indian man who finds a mute Pakistani girl and tries to reunite her with her family.
The scriptwriters were unaware of Geeta's story, but the movie led to a surge in interest in her case.