Peace groups have welcomed the Pakistan government’s decision to release 439 arrested Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture. The fishermen will be released in two batches — 220 on 25 December, 2016, and 219 on 5 January, 2017.
The goodwill gesture will go a long way in strengthening relations between two countries, says the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), the region’s oldest and largest people-to-people lobby group.
The release is particularly important given the “complete pause” on bilateral dialogue, notes PIPFP, demanding that Indian government “reciprocate by releasing Pakistani fishermen from Indian prisons”.
Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, had in a joint statement of July 2015 announced that they would release each other’s imprisoned fishermen, a move hailed then as “timely” and much needed.
There are currently 516 Indian fishermen incarcerated in Karachi prisons, and around 80 Pakistani fishermen in various prisons in Gujarat, India.
“Fishermen from Saurashtra, Gujarat and Diu have no option but to go towards Pakistan to catch fish and survive. We have been demanding that India and Pakistan must release all the fishermen from their custody,” says PIPFPD in a press statement welcoming Pakistan’s goodwill gesture.
The India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners, comprising retired judges of higher judiciaries, set up by both governments used to meet every six months but has not met since BJP-led government came into power, notes PIPFPD.
A longstanding demand of peace groups has been for the committee to meet regularly – and now it “needs to meet urgently” as PIPFPD reminds both governments.
Pakistan should also release 22 boats of Indian fishermen as agreed earlier, demands PIPFPD, and in fact both countries should release confiscated fishing boats which are in a position to sail with some repairs.
The boats are the only source of livelihood for the poor fishermen of India and Pakistan, says PIPFPD, which has long been demanding that both countries pursue a No Arrest Policy in case of fishermen.