In goodwill gesture, India to release 39 Pakistan prisoners

NEW DELHI: In a significant sign that India is finally responding to Islamabad’s peace overtures, the government has decided to release 39 Pakistan’s nationals currently languishing in Indian jails.

These included 21 prisoners who have served out their sentence in India and 18 fishermen.

Speaking to TOI immediately after Islamabad released Indian soldier Babulal Chavan , Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit had said that Pakistan expected India to acknowledge the Chavan’s repatriation and release 33 Pakistan nationals who were in Indian jails despite having completed their sentence. “We have identified these prisoners and with Pakistan confirming their nationality, they will be released on March 1,” said an official source.

While India has reacted cautiously to the house arrest of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, and his subsequent listing under the Anti Terrorism Act, the government believes it may be the right time to open channels of communication with Islamabad even if a full-fledged diplomatic dialogue remains no more than a barely visibile speck on the horizon.

India has repeatedly said in the past couple of months that it won’t dilute its stand that there can be no dialogue with Pakistan without demonstrable action against terror groups targeting India. However, there’s also a feeling within the government that India needs to reciprocate to the opening which Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, according to Pakistan diplomats, has sought to provide after the retirement of Raheel Sharif as army chief.

This saw the government inviting Pakistan for a South Asia Speakers’ Summit held in Indore last week and also seeking to promote people to people contact by ensuring and sponsoring Indian participation in the Karachi Literature Festival. Officially though, it continued to insist these developments shouldn’t be seen as a precursor to resumption of talks.

The release of prisoners and fishermen will be more significant though as that’s exactly what Pakistan was looking for to take the peace process forward.? In fact, in his first reach out to India after he saw the back of Raheel, Sharif too had released over 200 Indian fishermen on his birthday on December 25 last year. He followed it up with the release of Chavan, who was said to have “inadvertently” crossed over into Pakistan territory the day India carried out its surgical strikes across LoC last year.

Pakistan diplomats have maintained since the release of Chavan that the time to move forward is now as Islamabad too will go into a poll mode after June this year. According to them, Sharif may not find enough manoeuvring space after that keeping in mind the elections in Pakistan next year and that it is important to arrive at a mutually agreeable settlement for resumption of dialogue in the next few months.

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