Dear Prime Ministers, please keep your promise

Dear Prime Ministers, please keep your promise
File photo

Indian, Pakistani activists remind their Prime Ministers of their commitment at Ufa, Russia about release of fishermen, boats

Fishermen’s organizations and peace activists of India and Pakistan in a joint press release have reminded their respective Prime Ministers to fulfill their promises made on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Ufa, Russia on July 10, 2015, when they made a commitment to release of the fishermen in each other’s custody along with boats within a period of fifteen days.

The activists who met on Thursday in Karachi to discuss issues of detained fishermen included Chairman of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF)  Mohammad Ali Shah, senior journalist from Mumbai and General Secretary of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) Jatin Desai, Shujauddin Qureshi of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) and Mustafa Gurgez of PFF.

“The spirit shown in Ufa was much appreciated by people of both the countries, but since then the progress towards peace especially release of fishermen is slowed down,” they said in their statement.

They pointed out that hundreds of fishermen are still languishing in jails in both India and Pakistan. Some 120 Pakistani fishermen are estimated to be held in Indian jails while over 300 Indian fishermen are held in Pakistani jails. The activists demanded that the governments take steps at the earliest to release the arrested fishermen on a priority basis by swift verification of their documents.

While the Indian government provides Rs. 150 per day to each family of each of its arrested fishermen as financial support, said Jatin Desai. However, the Pakistani government makes no such concessions to the families of its arrested fishermen, according to PFF Chairman Mohammad Ali Shah.

The statement demanded that Pakistan government provide financial support to the families of all Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails, equal to minimum wages per month. The families of such detained fishermen face a great deal of suffering due to the absence of their main bread-earners. Detaining fishermen’s boats and launches also creates financial crisis for such families.

The activists pointed out that while releasing fishermen from the other side, the governments used to release their boats also. However, for some years now, only the fishermen are released and made to cross the border all the way upcountry, at Wagah-Attari.

The statement further demanded the governments of India and Pakistan stop arresting each other’s fishermen in a tit-for-tat moves on the open sea areas. They should declare an area of 50 nautical miles on each side, total 100 nautical miles, as a ‘buffer zone’ where fishing be allowed for bonafide fishermen of both the countries. Special licenses or identity cards may be issued to such fishermen and in case of any violation some fines may be imposed.

The meeting decided to hold a South Asia level joint conference in 2016 to discuss the fishermen’s issues in the region, preferably at the occasion of the next SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in November next year in Islamabad. Participants agreed to prepare a research document on the issues that fishermen in each South Asian country face, for wide dissemination across the region. Countries where fishing is common, like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives, may hold meetings within their own countries, while some preparatory meetings may be held jointly online. The activists will also set up an email group and social media groups for this purpose.

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