Pakistan releases 57 Indian fishing boats in goodwill gesture

Pakistan releases 57 Indian fishing boats in goodwill gesture

Handsome is as handsome does
By Mariana Baabar

Marina Baber

Mariana Baabar

Islamabad, March 22, 2015: India on Sunday welcomed Pakistan’s unilateral goodwill gesture which sees 57 Indian fishing boats in its custody in Karachi since last May, being fully repaired and made seaworthy. After necessary repairs the boats were towed to the maritime boundary today, where these were physically taken over by the Indian side.

“This decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May 2014 when he had visited India was greatly appreciated. We are glad that the boats have now returned. This was logistically not an easy task as the boats have been in custody for sometime and they had to be made seaworthy”, Indian High Commissioner Dr T.C.A. Raghavan told The News.

He said that a team from Gujrat and from the High Commission has been in Karachi for the past two weeks.

“This exercise was possible on account of the cooperation and assistance extended to us by the Government of Pakistan and in particular the Foreign Ministry and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA)”, he added.

The Foreign Office said that a 8-member Indian delegation was in Karachi from March 9 to finalize modalities for the repatriation of boats with PMSA.

While the actual handover takes place at high seas today, this exercise

in choppy waters would be a challenge in itself, claim experts.

“While the PMSA had kept the boats in good condition, it extended full support to the visiting team in making the boats seaworthy after minor repairs. Subsequently, the boats were towed to the maritime boundary today, where these were physically taken over by the Indian side”, spokesperson at the Foreign Office said in a statement.

She pointed out that it was because of instructions from the Prime Minister to return these boats and hence special efforts were undertaken by the PMSA to ensure that the boats are returned to their owners.

“Usually the boats are not in seaworthy condition and are not returned”, she added.

Sources disclose that there were also some Pakistani boats in Indian custody, but not in very large numbers. Pakistan still retains 750 Indian boats in Karachi.

Earlier last May when Sharif was leaving for New Delhi to participate in the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister elect Narendra Modi that he announced the release of 151 Indian prisoners including fishermen and assured the handing back of 57 Indian fishing boats.

Both countries have used the release of fishermen to send “good will” messages across despite the fact that these prisoners have completed their jail sentence. Politics takes precedence over this exercise of ‘human barter’.

At the time when there were ‘great expectations’ for improved bilateral relations, Modi had tweeted, “I welcome the step by Sri Lanka & Pakistan to release our fishermen. I welcome our fishermen brothers back home.”

Left to themselves it is not unusual to find fishermen from both sides indulging in ‘barter trade”. Recently Indian Coast Guard arrested Indian fishermen on two boats who in exchange for some ice and fish had taken chocolates, milk packs and a packet of cigarettes from Pakistani fishermen, off the Okha coast.

It is not in Pakistan alone that Indian fishermen are arrested. Even in Sri Lanka Indian fishermen cross into Lankan waters.

Just before Modi was to visit Sri Lanka, its Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe lashed out at the Indian fishermen and threatened to shoot them.

“If someone tries to break into my house, I can shoot. If he gets killed…Law allows me to do that.Why are you coming into our waters? Why are you fishing in our waters? Stay on the Indian side…There will be no issue…No one will shoot anyone else … You stay on the Indian side, Let our fishermen stay on the Sri Lankan side…Otherwise don’t make accusations of human rights violation by the Navy. You came in there,” he said.

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