ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday ordered the release of 151 Indian prisoners ahead of his historic visit to New Delhi to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in.
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.
“The prime minister has instructed that 151 Indian prisoners currently detained in Pakistani jails and 57 Indian fishing boats in Pakistani custody should be released on Monday,” a senior government official told AFP.
“Pakistan has always held that the issue of prisoners in our respective countries is a humanitarian one and should be taken in that spirit,” the official said.
Welcoming the goodwill gesture, Modi posted on microblogging website twitter: “I welcome the step by Sri Lanka & Pakistan to release our fishermen. I welcome our fishermen brothers back home!”
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.
“All these are good signs and hopeful signs. But peace is always a long process,” said Akbar.
On all invitations being accepted by the neighbouring countries for the swearing-in ceremony of prime minister-designate Narendra Modi, Akbar said, “I think the good spirit in which the invitations to neighbours were sent, is reciprocated. It is a good thing. This is an occasion to celebrate democracy. It is to remind us all that peace is always a better option than confrontation,” The Asian News International reported him as saying.
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.
Meanwhile, some 92 Indian fishermen detained in Nara Prison in Hyderabad were released 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.
Another 59 Indian fishermen were released from the Malir Jail in Karachi.
Syed Nazir Hussain, the superintendent of the Malir Jail, told Indian media that the Indian prisoners were released on written directives of the interior and foreign ministries.
“Most of these prisoners are poor Indian fishermen who were arrested and brought here for trespassing into Pakistani territorial waters,” he said.
The freed prisoners were taken in an air-conditioned bus from Karachi to Wagah border in Lahore from where they will be handed over to Indian authorities.
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.
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