By Ravi Nitesh and Abdur Rauf Yousafzai
Conflict between India and Pakistan has continued since 1947. It has been almost 68 years as of now, with many wars and many border skirmishes having punctuated their bilateral ties. All these have not only resulted in wastage of money, but it also affected the psychology of people on both sides, adding to that ‘hatred’ which has been taught to generations through actions (of wars, statements etc) and through written materials (of media, books etc). But the eventual, actual sufferers are not those who are fanning the fire of hatred but the soldiers and other civilian population along the Line of Control (LoC) who are the direct victims of this conflict.
At present, prisons of both countries have civilians and fishermen of belonging to the other country. But while the conflict between these two nuclear powered neighbors continues in one form or another, military and diplomatic, efforts are being made by governments and civil societies to ensure peace building through many new initiatives.
One such initiative is the exchange of list of prisoners who are lodged in the prisons of the other country. List of prisoners were exchanged every year by the two governments under the agreement signed between them on May 31, 2008 where it was agreed that list of nationals of each other who are in prison of the either country will be exchanged on January 1 and July 1 every year. This agreement was an addition to the arrangements of exchange of information of each other’s unclear installations and facilities that already existed. Nuclear exchange list agreement was signed on December 1988 and entered in to force on January 1991.
Despite having such provisions and availability of lists, there were many families on both sides who were clueless about confinement of their family members in jail of other country as governments have not made any effort to put these lists up on public portals. An Indo-Pak Peace Initiative, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has chipped in its bit to ensure that this information becomes accessible to people at large.
After its first release of detailed list of Indo-Pak prisoners in the year 2014, Aaghaz-e-Dosti released another detailed list of prisoners and fishermen of India and Pakistan who are lodged in other’s jail. This list is significant in terms of details, where it is first time when any such detailed list has been put up on a public portal. This list is a detailed one and provides status of prisoners as on July 1, 2015. Though there may be prisoners and fishermen who were released and few who were arrested during July 2015 and thus, the status may have been changed, however, the data is important in terms of its analysis to understand the many other aspects that often do not come into the knowledge of the people. An analysis of the same is presented here.
During the years, it was observed that both sides maintained numbers of prisoners and fishermen between 200 and 400. It has been observed that the number of fishermen in Pakistani jails is far higher than of number of fishermen on the Indian side. Aaghaz-e-Dosti observed that the reasons for the same are that the Indian fishermen sail towards deep sea on the Pakistani side of Arabian Sea and due to many reasons such as the desire for a big catch of fish or unawareness of crossing maritime boundary etc., get caught by Pakistani maritime agencies.
While from Pakistani sides, there are very few sailor who need to come towards the Indian side as good catch of fish is already available to them, however along with the undecided region of Sir Creek or in case of inadvertent crossing by fishermen, Indian maritime agencies arrest the wandered fishermen. Arrest of these fishermen is neither done under the UN Laws of the Sea nor is it logical or humanitarian. The boats of those who are arrested are confiscated and therefore, upon their release, livelihoods get affected.
We also see with the available list which has been updated till July 1 2015, that a total of 48 Indian prisoners (civil) were in Pakistani jails where approx 60% i.e. 29 prisoners (including 5 women prisoners) had already completed the sentence awarded to them, but they are unable to come due to their nationality not confirmed. Sentence of 13 prisoners were completed even between the years 2002 and 2010, but they were unable to return due to nationality issue.
The list also includes 1 prisoner who is deaf and dumb and therefore nothing is certain about him. Names and parentage is not known for 2 other prisoners. Long punishment (of more than 5 years and up to 25 years) was awarded in only 10 cases, while for all others, punishment is of 2 years. Long punishments were awarded under Pakistan Army Act and Officials Secrets Act.
From the data it was also observed that even when the punishment had less than 2 years of duration, prisoners were lodged in for long time due to other reasons such as ascertaining their nationality, that may be attributed to other factors such as bureaucratic hurdles or not getting proper advocacy and support.
Of the 355 Indian fishermen who were lodged in Pakistani jails, 352 had already been completed their sentence, but 218 of these were unable to return due to reason of nationality status not confirmed.
In the list of 27 Pakistani fishermen lodged in Indian jails, the nationality status is not confirmed in all cases. In the list available, all fishermen are under-trial (while 1 fisherman got arrested in 2010, 14 in 2013, 12 in 2014 and others later) and no sentence awarded to them except of 1 prisoner who was later acquitted. All cases are registered under under u/s 3,10,7,14 MZI Act (JMFC Dwarka).
Among the 251 total Pakistani civilians held in Indian jails, 102 are still under-trial, while 55 (including 1 deaf and dumb and 1 woman) completed their sentence and unable to return due to reasons related to nationality status. 7 people were acquitted from charges, but due nationality status and not filing of acquittal appeal from J&K government, they were unable to return. There are 2 people against whom offence could not be registered as their mental condition is not sound. Death row prisoners are 2 and persons who get life term are 22 in numbers.
Given that many are still languishing in the jails on both sides, suggestions have been sounded to ensure that justice is served to all. There is a need to expedite speedy trials of all under-trial prisoners and fishermen in their jails. For a long time, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been appealing to both sides of the government to release fishermen with minimum penalty and in the sea along with their boats. It was also said during the Ufa summit joint declaration that all fishermen along with their boats will be released within 15 days, but it has not been completely done yet and needs to be reviewed to expedite the process.
Governments should also plan to have a common portal on such data of prisoners and fishermen lodged in jails of each other along with their present status. A task force should be created to look in the matters of coordination with families and other concerned authorities to expedite the release, identification of these persons within a time frame.
Aaghaz-e-Dosti believes that a better treatment of each other’s prisoners can really bring a constructive change and will only benefit in establishing the humanitarian and justful image of countries on both sides. It will also work as concrete step to do something useful that will directly and immediately benefit to people, specially to victims. It will also be seen as an inclination towards the desire to resolve more issues of conflict through discussing together and with the objective of larger benefit of people.
(Ravi Nitesh (New Delhi) and Abdur Rauf Yousafzai (Peshawar) are members of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)