India and Pakistan must ensure that fishermen are not victims of a deterioration in ties
According to the National Fishworkers Forum, there are 558 Indian fishermen in Pakistani jails, and 74 from Pakistan in Indian prisons. The Forum calculates that 1,200 Indian fishing vessels are in Pakistan’s custody. The families of these imprisoned people are in penury. Consular access to those in prison is difficult. Only 295 of the 558 prisoners in Pakistan could have their nationality verified. In 2007, both countries formed a joint judicial committee comprising eight retired judges — four each from India and Pakistan — to facilitate the exchange of civilian prisoners. The mechanism has been defunct since 2013, and attempts to revive it in 2018 did not bear fruit. Civilians along international borders often get caught in disputes between countries, and India has several such hotspots, on land and in sea. Even fishermen venturing near the India-Sri Lanka maritime border often fall victim though both countries maintain cordial bilateral ties. Many Indian villages along the borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh also become theatres of conflict, as communities often find it difficult to reconcile with international borders that divide their traditional spheres of economic and social activities. Pakistan has aggressively sponsored violence in India, and terrorists trained by its agencies sailed in a hijacked Indian fishing boat in 2008 to Mumbai. It is a tragedy that ordinary people could end up in a foreign prison while trying to earn their livelihood. India and Pakistan must consider this as a humanitarian crisis and work towards resolving it. And, both countries must avoid any escalation in tensions on account of the latest incident.
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