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Civil societies breach India-Pakistan mistrust

Sandeep Dikshit

They effect the largest release of civilians held prisoners; last batch of 142 jailed men reaches Indian border

They had crossed maritime boundary by mistake

12 Indians yet to get consular access, 128 are undertrials

— Photo: PTI

Home at last:Indian fishermen pay their respects to the country on arrival at the Attari-Wagah border near Amritsar on Tuesday after they were released by Pakistani authorities.

NEW DELHI: The biggest India-Pakistan transfer of civilian prisoners was completed on Tuesday, with the last batch of 142 jailed men reaching the Indian border.

In all, 442 fishermen who had inadvertently crossed the maritime boundary, began making their way back to the country in batches from August 31 following a petition filed before the Pakistan Supreme Court by two civil society organisations — the Pakistan Fishermen's Forum and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (PILER) — and argued by the former Pakistan Law Minister, Iqbal Haider, another advocate for open borders between the two countries.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Haider said the government did not give any importance to the petition until Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry issued separate notices to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior and the Government of Sindh, asking them to disclose under what authority the Indians had been imprisoned.

It all started on April 19 this year at the People's SAARC organised here when activists from the Indian Fishermen Forum approached Pakistani civil society activists for help in the matter.

Retired justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, whose activists were working among prisoners painstakingly, ferreted out a complete list of Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails. This set the stage for a petition which, in a rare case, was accepted directly by the Supreme Court.

“Not the end”

“This is not the end,” pointed out Mr. Haider. There are 12 Indians who are yet to get consular access, that is vital in establishing their Indian nationality, and 128 are undertrial prisoners. “Our experience is that national governments do not respond in such cases. This is typical of the approach of both governments and is condemnable,” he added.

According to the Pakistan High Commission, 902 of its nationals are detained in Indian jails. Of these, 71 have completed their terms and have travel documents provided by the High Commission. “These should, in all fairness, be released instantly. I am at a loss to understand why,” said the former Senator.

“This is because of the politics of tit-for-tat between the two countries. We are pressuring our government to stop this nonsense. There is also a very sensitive and active civil society in India, which is pressurising the Indian authorities. But we are not talking about those facing serious charges like [November 28, 2008 Mumbai terror strike convict] Kasab. We are pursuing the cases of innocent people who have accidentally crossed the border.”

With PILER's Karamat Ali by his side, Mr. Haider's message to both governments is not to wait for bilateralism from the other side — take the lead and the other would be forced to follow.

To stress his point, he rounded off the interaction with a couplet from the famous poet of secularism and emancipation Ahmad Faraz:

Uski woh jaane uske pass wafa thi ki na thi

Tum faraz apni taraf se toh nibhate jaate

(Only she knows whether she would recompense my love;

But you should have at least continued to love her.)

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