Focusing on an issue that needs to be addressed on humanitarian grounds
Signaling a slight thaw in their troubled bilateral relations, India and Pakistan have decided to ensure closer coordination between their coast guards in liberalizing procedures for release of each other’s fishermen as well as undertaking search and rescue missions and tackling oil spill disasters or pollution on the high seas.
This came during a delegation-level meeting, chaired by Indian Coast Guard (ICG) director general Rajendra Singh and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) chief Rear Admiral Zaka Ur Rehman, in New Delhi on Monday.
This annual meeting, which is a significant link between the two coastal maritime agencies, was not held last year after Indian Special Forces conducted “surgical strikes” against alleged terror launch pads in Azad Jammu & Kashmir in September 2016 and a Pakistani military court awarded the death sentence former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav in April 2017.
“The two sides will now stay in regular contact and expeditiously exchange information on maritime boundary violations and nabbing of each other’s fishing boats through the existing hotline between the ICG and PMSA headquarters, instead of merely talking once a week on Wednesdays. The Indian side stressed this issue needs to be addressed on humanitarian grounds,” said an official.
Impoverished fishermen from the two countries often stray across the international maritime boundary line in search of “lucrative catches” and get caught in the bitter tussle between the two countries. Hundreds of them end up in each other’s jails due to the lack of clear demarcation of territorial waters.
“The meeting discussed measures to liberalize procedures for release and repatriation of each other’s fishermen as quickly as possible instead of letting them languish in each other’s jails for months at end. A mechanism with standard operating procedures (SOPs) is being worked out to promptly release them into each other’s custody,” said the source.
“Similarly, the ICG and PMSA will work towards coordinating maritime search and rescue operations as well as tackling marine environment pollution. It was agreed to conduct search and rescue communication exercises between their rescue coordination centers to validate the SOPs for efficient rescue of distressed vessels/crew at sea,” he added.
Rajat Pandit is a Senior Editor, The Times of India focusing on defence and strategic affairs, besides politics, movies and books. He tweets @rajatpTOI.
— TNN, May 28, 2018