Pakistan and India are considering a proposal to release prisoners of certain categories held in each other’s jails on humanitarian grounds, even as tensions simmer between the two South Asian rivals over ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary, it emerged on Tuesday.
During high-level discussions in past weeks, officials from both countries deliberated over a plan to release imprisoned citizens that fall into the following three categories:
- Prisoners over 70 years of age
- Mentally disabled and hearing or speech impaired persons
- Female prisoners
According to official documents of the interior ministry and Foreign Office obtained by DawnNews, India’s Ministry of External Affairs had summoned the Pakistan High Commissioner to New Delhi a few days ago and proposed that both the countries should accelerate the process to exchange prisoners from the aforementioned categories.
In a meeting held in Bangkok on December 26 last year, the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan had also agreed to take steps for the imminent release of prisoners who are elderly or disabled or females, on humanitarian grounds, the documents show.
The NSAs had also agreed on a proposal to revive the mechanism of Pakistan-India Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which has been inactive since October 2013.
It was also agreed during meetings between officials of the two countries that a list of disabled and older-than-70 inmates would be compiled and swapped on an emergency basis. Delegations of doctors and medical experts from both countries will also travel to the other country to examine the mental and physical health of such prisoners to ascertain their eligibility for release.
The Indian High Commission in Islamabad in its meetings with the Foreign Office officials has stressed that such lists be prepared on a priority basis. Officials from the two countries are in touch to finalise the bilateral visits that are required before the lists can be drafted.
Interior ministry sources told DawnNews at least 40 Pakistani citizens are imprisoned in Indian jails who fit the criteria of the three categories.
According to one document from the Foreign Office and interior ministry, Indian and Pakistan have been exchanging proposals to revive and organise meetings of the Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners.
Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal told DawnNews that proposals to exchange prisoners had been under consideration, however “they could not be implemented due to LoC [ceasefire violations] and tensions between the two countries” so far. He said the proposals are currently being discussed at the interior ministry level.
Ceasefire violations are a frequent feature along the LoC and Working Boundary despite the leadership of Pakistan Rangers and India’s Border Security Forces agreeing in November 2017 that the “spirit” of the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement must be revived to protect innocent lives.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif had informed the Senate last week that Indian troops have committed over 170 ceasefire violations along the LoC and WB in January 2018 alone.
At least 11 civilians have died, whereas 51 others have been injured in the recent spurt of LoC violations, Asif said at the time, adding that there has been a surge in Indian ceasefire violations since international pressure began mounting against New Delhi for its violation of human rights in India-held Kashmir.
Extension in agreement of Indo-Pak rail link
In a separate development, the Pakistani government has agreed to extend the agreement of the rail link between Munabao in India and Khokhrapar in Pakistan for another three years, effective February 1, 2018 to January 31, 2021, read a statement issued by the Foreign Office.
Signed in 2006, the agreement for the train route “facilitates people-to-people contacts which Pakistan believes are essential for improving relations between both the countries”, the statement added.