ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Sunday instructed the release of 151 Indian prisoners currently detained in Pakistani jails and handing over of 57 fishing boats in Pakistan's custody, ahead of his historic visit to New Delhi to attend Narendra Modi's swearing-in as premier.
In accordance with these instructions, the prisoners would be handed over on Monday morning to the Indian authorities at Wagah/Attari border, says a press release by Prime Minister's Office.
Pakistan is releasing all those fishermen whose status as Indian nationals has been confirmed by the Indian authorities.
Handing over of the boats is also being coordinated with the Indian government. Islamabad's move to free the prisoners, mostly fishermen accused of violating Pakistan's territorial waters, was welcomed by India as a diplomatic gesture ahead of the inauguration Monday.
India's foreign ministry said Pakistan had notified New Delhi of its intention to free the prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” to coincide with the swearing-in.
“It's always good to welcome back our prisoners who have been in custody for some time,” foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told CNN-IBN television network.
Akbaruddin also applauded in a tweet Sri Lanka's decision to release five Indians detained for allegedly illegally fishing in the island's waters.
Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the release before his visit to Delhi for the ceremony, his office said in Colombo.
Similarly, this is the first time in many years that any side has decided to release the boats of these fishermen and it is Pakistan that has decided to take the lead in this direction.
Pakistan has always held that the issue of prisoners between both the countries was a humanitarian one and should be taken in the same spirit.
According to figures, there were 521 Pakistani prisoners in India, including 168 fishermen and the Government of Pakistan hoped that they too would be able to return to their loved ones in Pakistan soon.
The Pakistani PM's attendance will be a first in the history of the South Asian neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and remain bitterly divided over the disputed region of Kashmir and other issues.
Modi invited Pakistan PM Sharif and other neighbouring heads of government from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to Monday's swearing-in.
South Asian authorities frequently arrest fishermen from neighbouring countries for straying into their waters.
The absence of properly defined maritime borders and of technology to determine ships' location adds to the problem.
Efforts by various fishing communities to resolve the problem have ended in failure.
The fishermen often languish in jails even after serving their terms because fulfilling official paperwork to get them home can take time.
Last August Pakistan released some 340 Indian fishermen on humanitarian grounds.
Modi will be sworn in as prime minister 10 days after his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in a landslide, securing the biggest majority by a single party in 30 years.
Fishermen shifted from Hyderabad jail
Ninety two Indian fishermen, detained in Nara Prison Hyderabad, were released here on Sunday.
Acting Superintendent Nara Prison Hyderabad Nazir Shah told APP that 92 Indian fishermen were freed after completion of necessary legal procedure and verification by Indian authorities.
Five Indian fishermen remained in the prison as their verification was not done by the Indian authorities, he added.
Nazir Shah said that 97 Indian fishermen had been brought to Nara Prison from Landhi Prison Karachi on January 13, 2014.
He said that the 92 fishermen released from the jail left for Lahore from where they would be handed over to Indian authorities at Wagah border.
Earlier this month, an Indian fisherman Arwind, 75, who was serving time at Nara prison, died of tuberculosis at the Liaquat University Hospital, Jamshoro,
Local activists give send off to Indian fishermen
Local activists of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum Mohammad Mallah and Azad Mirwahi gave the Indian fishermen a sendoff when they boarded the bus outside the prison for Lahore.
They would be shifted to Wagah border where they would be handed over to Indian authorities.
“I am delighted to be released”, said 55 year old Jagdesh.
Wedding of Jagdesh’s son was postponed due to his arrest during fishing in international territorial waters on Pakistani side. “Now my son’s wedding will be held”, said Jagdesh, who was shifted to this prison on January 13 this year.
According PFF chief Mohammad Ali Shah it is basically the conflict between two countries that fishermen face this misery quite often. “Forces from the two sides arrest fishermen of either side during fishing”, he said adding that since there were no visible boundaries in the sea it became difficult to understand the borders.
“Fishermen unintentionally cross territorial waters during fishing. Sometime it is intentionally on the part of fishermen who cross territorial waters on either side only to have a big catch”, he remarked.
Like Jagdesh, Ismail was happy too to rejoin his family after one year and eight months. “I am from Gujrat and was caught during fishing in international waters”, Ismail said while holding his belongings in his hands tightly.
Naresh is being released after 16 months after he was caught by Pakistani maritime agency.
“Food and other things were good in jail. But I must tell you that someone should inform Nepal’s high commissioner that one Nepalese national is also languishing in Nara prison”, he said.
Shah said that Indian and Pakistani forces keep arresting fishermen as the dispute on Sir Creek remains unresolved. “Sometime the forces cross borders too to make such arrests also”, he said.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed severely criticised Prime Minister’s decision to attend the swearing in ceremony of Modi while addressing a conference in Hyderabad on Saturday-Sunday night to mark May 28 when Pakistan went nuclear under leadership of Nawaz Sharif on May 28,1998 in a tit for tat response to Indian nuclear explosions on May 11,1998.