ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday released 100 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture despite heightened tensions with its neighbor, following a terror attack which killed 40 troops in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir on February 14.
The first batch of the 360 Indian prisoners, which Pakistan says will be freed in four phases this month, were handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing on Monday afternoon.
“Pakistan has decided to release 360 Indian prisoners (355 fishermen and 05 civil) – who have completed their sentences – in four batches," Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Dr. Mohammad Faisal had said on Saturday.
The fishermen were arrested by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) for trespassing into Pakistani waters and were detained at Malir prison in the port city of Karachi from where they were moved to Lahore.
Fishermen from both sides are often detained by the other country, especially if they are in violation of each other's water treaties. Those that are arrested are usually the ones with ill-equipped boats which do not specify precise locations.
Meanwhile, reacting to the initiative undertaken by the government, the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) – an organization which works to advance social, economic, cultural, and political rights of fishermen and fishing communities in the country – said it would hold a rally on April 11 in Karachi to push for the release of Pakistani fishermen languishing in various jails across India.
“Around 130 Pakistani fishermen are jailed in different prisons of India. Out of them 98 were cleared for release in January this year. But not a single has been released. Instead, just three days ago we received dead body of Noor-ul-Amin, a fisherman killed in Indian jail,” Muhammad Ali Shah, Chairperson of PFF, told Arab News.
“We continue to release theirs but how many Pakistani fishermen have been released?” Shah, who has planned to lead the rally this week, said.
Pakistan's goodwill gesture is one of several undertaken by the government to maintain peace in the region in recent times.
Soon after the Pulwama attack, India had responded with air strikes, alleging that it had successfully targeted and destroyed a militant training camp in Pakistan – claims which were categorically rejected by Islamabad.
In a tit-for-tat move, Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter jet before capturing its pilot on February 27. As a peace overture on part of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the pilot was released a few days later.
Tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have remained high ever since, with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi saying on Sunday that Pakistan had “reliable intelligence” that India was planning a military attack between April 16 and 20.
“Despite this, Pakistan has decided to release 360 Indian captives/fishermen unilaterally,” Qureshi said, adding that the move was to “let the world see Pakistan's attitude and the obstinate behavior of India and let them decide who wants peace and who has political desires from such activities.”