The federal government has told the Supreme Court that the suspension of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan is a major impediment in the release of Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails.
After getting input from the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and others, the government has submitted a report in the apex court over a joint petition for the release of Pakistani fishermen. The petition was filed by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) through Raheel Kamran Sheikh Advocate.
In the report the government says that it is making efforts for the early resumption of composite dialogue, but the delay seems to be linked to the ongoing Indian elections. When the dialogue resumes, fresh mechanisms, especially pertaining to the fishermen, may be broached with the Indian side, it adds.
Without meaningful dialogue, any effort by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss a fresh mechanism regarding the release of the fishermen is likely to be dissipated, the report states.
The Ministry of Interior deals with the issue of fishermen but interior secretary-level talks have not been taken place since May 2012 due to the suspension of the composite dialogue between the two neighbours.
“The recent exchange of lists took place on January 1, 2014. According to which, 131 Pakistani fishermen are detained in Indian jails. The Indian side does not provide [any] information on the exact nature of charges and the date of completion of sentences of fishermen.
Nationality status of 61 fishermen has been confirmed and they [a]wait release/repatriation,” states the report, made available to The Express Tribune.
After the confirmation of their national status, the release and repatriation of these fishermen may take from six months to a year. However, there have been instances of a longer jail term.
The report further reveals that in 2013, India released 28 Pakistani fishermen and 82 in 2012 while Pakistan released 680 Indian fishermen in 2012 and 390 in 2013. The Indian side has not reciprocated the gesture shown by the government of Pakistan as per an agreement.
The report, however, adds that due to the efforts of Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi, 18 fishermen have been released by Indian authorities in February this year.
The report mentions the Pakistan-India Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, comprising eminent retired judges from both countries, which visited prisons in both countries and submitted their recommendations to their respective governments.
“Justice (retd) Abdul Qadeer Chaudhry and Justice (retd) Mian Muhammad Ajmal from Pakistan visited Indian jails in Amritsar, Delhi and Jaipur on October 25 to 31, 2013, which was their last visit. The next visit for Pakistani jails will be scheduled shortly.”
The petition has cited the Sir Creek dispute and its demarcation issues as one of the main reasons for straying fishermen, the report further states. “While the argument may hold limited sway, persistent efforts have been made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the dispute. Sir Creek is part of the composite dialogue, which is presently suspended by India. As and when the composite dialogue resumes, the need for which is emphasised by Pakistan at all levels, the issue of the early resolution of Sir Creek will be broached with India”
The government also submitted that the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and similar NGOs may inform it about any arrest of Pakistani fishermen and their boats, so that the matter could be taken up immediately with Indian authorities.
“More importantly, in addition to the efforts of the government, the NGOs may also like to invoke the jurisdiction of the Indian courts and seek early release, repatriation and humane treatment of Pakistani prisoners.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2014.