Pakistan and India are expected to carry out the biggest-ever swap of prisoners languishing in each other jails, indicating a growing thaw in their frosty relations four years after the Mumbai attacks.
Officials told The Express Tribune that a broader understanding to release prisoners was reached when President Asif Ali Zardari visited India this April and met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The swap will apply to all prisoners besides those detained on terrorism or espionage charges, according to sources in the foreign ministry. The foreign ministries of the two countries have been gathering data on prisoners detained in jails on both sides of the border.
While no exact figure is available, officials said the number of Pakistanis jailed in India run into hundreds if not thousands – and most of them are either fishermen or villagers living on the border who cross into India unknowingly.
On the other hand, an equal number of Indians face miserable conditions in Pakistani jails, and are often denied access to a lawyer or contact with their families.
Officials said the release of prisoners would be part of a series of ‘pleasant developments’ taking place between the two countries.
“When so many positive things are happening and there is an ambition on both sides to make these gains irreversible, we don’t think we should be shying from dealing with this humanitarian issue,” said an official at the foreign ministry.
On August 15, as many as 55 Indian prisoners were released on the orders of the president and officials said it was the ‘informal’ beginning of a plan.
There are expectations that the announcement to release prisoners might be made in November this year, when the Indian premier is likely to visit Pakistan.
The two countries have recently resumed a composite dialogue after three years, following multiple assaults in Mumbai in 2008 which were blamed on a group based in Pakistan.
Peace and trade
Meanwhile, an 18-member delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians and traders will leave for India on a four-day visit on August 22 for the promotion of peace, harmony and expedite the flow of trade among Saarc member countries.
Vice President Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry Iftikhar Ali Malik told APP that it was the need of the hour that Saarc members address their mutual disputes and exploit the economic potential of the region that is unfortunately mired in poverty. Members of the delegation include leader of the House in Senate Jehangir Badar, among others. (With additional input from APP)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.