ISLAMABAD - Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen on Sunday as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with its neighbour, officials said.

The men were arrested more than a year ago, accused of entering Pakistani waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is unclear. The released prisoners would be handed over to the Indian authorities at Wagah Border today (Monday).

The fishermen released from Karachi’s Malir jail were arrested for entering Pakistan’s territorial waters illegally and fishing. According to Jail Superintendent Hassan Sehto, the fishermen boarded a train to Lahore, from where they will be handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border.

He said that the move came after the interior ministry ordered the release of the 220 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture.

India is also holding Pakistani fishermen for the same reason and Pakistan hopes its gesture - on the birthday of the nation’s founding father, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which coincides with Christmas Day - will be reciprocated.

“We have total of 518 Indian fishermen out of which 220 are being released today as a goodwill gesture of the Pakistan government. In the next phase, 219 fishermen will be released on January 5,” Shunail Husain Shah, a police assistant superintendent, told Reuters.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been more fraught than usual since a crackdown by Indian forces on dissent in Indian-occupied Kashmir began in July. In September gunmen killed 18 soldiers at an Indian army base, an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan.

There have since been repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing at Line of Control in Kashmir, with both sides reporting deaths and injuries.

“We appreciate Pakistan’s goodwill gesture of releasing Indian fishermen , but we expect a similar reciprocal move by India, 156 Pakistani fishermen including 13 children are languishing in Indian jails,” Muhammad Ali Shah, president of Pakistan Fisher Folk, a fishermen’s rights body, told Reuters.

The Pakistani and Indian maritime agencies frequently arrest each other’s fishermen on illegal fishing charges.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who cross territorial waters can be warned and fined but not arrested, and Shah called on both countries to respect that.

One of the fishermen being released, who goes by the single name Naresh, told Reuters: “I am very happy, looking forward to meet my family back in Gujarat. We were treated nicely here, I will request the Indian government release the detained Pakistani fishermen as well.”

Also, in a twitter message, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Mian Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.

Modi wished Prime Minister Sharif a healthy and long life. It may be recalled here that Indian prime minister visited Raiwind last year on the same date to attend a wedding in Sharif family. This incited criticism from certain quarters as the visit took place amid tensions between the two countries.

TIME IS RIGHT TO OPEN

TALKS IN KASHMIR: SINHA

Monitoring Desk adds: With street protests ebbing in Held Kashmir and the winter set in, former Indian minister Yashwant Sinha has called the current period the “right time” for the BJP government to open dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Hurriyat.

Speaking to The Hindu, Sinha, who along with four other eminent citizens visited Occupied Kashmir twice in the last couple of months, said while the situation had the appearance of normality, things were unsettled beneath the surface.

“We visited Kashmir twice: the first time we kept ourselves to Srinagar and the second time [from December 10 to 14] we went to Baramullah, Anantnag and Shopian. While day-to-day life appears to have become normal, things are very unsettled beneath the surface, and anything can incite passions, like the killing of Burhan Wani in July,” he said.

“We have to begin a dialogue process... and this is the right time. There is severe winter and things appear to be normalising, with schools reopening and the hartal calendar down to a twice-weekly call. The stakeholders should be contacted,” he said.

“The narrative in the Kashmir Valley is a very strong feeling of betrayal, and of discrimination against the people of the state by the rest of the country. The most important example of this sense of betrayal is over the use of pellet guns, which are not used in any other place than in the Kashmir Valley,” he said.

Mr. Sinha described the protests and violence this time as different from the situation not just in the 1990s but also during 2008 and 2010. “Earlier, the protests were verging on anger, then full of anger; this time, the protest has turned into hatred.”

 

 

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and Shopian. While day-to-day life appears to have become normal, things are very unsettled beneath the surface, and anything can incite passions, like the killing of Burhan Wani in July,” he said.

“We have to begin a dialogue process... and this is the right time. There is severe winter and things appear to be normalising, with schools reopening and the hartal calendar down to a twice-weekly call. The stakeholders should be contacted,” he said.

“The narrative in the Kashmir Valley is a very strong feeling of betrayal, and of discrimination against the people of the state by the rest of the country. The most important example of this sense of betrayal is over the use of pellet guns, which are not used in any other place than in the Kashmir Valley,” he said.

Mr. Sinha described the protests and violence this time as different from the situation not just in the 1990s but also during 2008 and 2010. “Earlier, the protests were verging on anger, then full of anger; this time, the protest has turned into hatred.”