Thursday, 27 October 2011

Pak-India treaty sought to avoid arrest of fishermen

KARACHI: The governments of Pakistan and India were urged to formulate a treaty that could bar both sides from arresting fishermen for violating sea perimeters.

The demand was made in a joint press conference addressed by Justice (r) Nasir Aslam Zahid, former federal minister Syed Iqbal Haider, chairman Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) Muhammad Ali Shah and joint director Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Zulfikar Shah here at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

They proposed the declaration of 50 nautical miles of both sides as a buffer zone and issuance of identity cards to small-scale fishermen to refrain from arrests at the hands of watchdogs.

Justice Zahid said, “There are 252 Indian fishermen in Pakistani prisons of whom 128 have completed their sentence.” He demanded of the government of Pakistan to immediately release them.

PFF chief said no arrested fishermen had so far been proven guilty of any charge except for crossing the border. He said the struggle to restrict both countries from arresting innocent fishermen had been going on since 1988, however, both counties did not take any step to stop the practice that caused nuisance for poor fishermen. He said that for the last three years the confiscation of boats had continued with 512 boats going under the custody of India and 250 of Pakistan. For more than four decades both Pakistan and India have been imposing severe hardships on fisherfolk on the pretext of cross-border violations in the open sea, he added.

Former federal minister said fishermen were unaware of sea boarders, which was why they violated the limits. Commenting on visa matter of both countries, he said, “More visa issuance is made viable the more peace and development will be witnessed by the two countries.”

Replying to queries, the speakers said vessel seizure must be stopped by the security agencies of both India and Pakistan forthwith and all fishermen should be returned soon to their homes. If Pakistan is to act rapidly, India must promptly accept detained fisherfolk as citizens. Verification must begin with fisherfolk families and their organisations replacing the current prolonged, bureaucratic top down process that merely accentuates misery, they noted.

“We hope that India will continue to exercise restraint and give up its practice of imprisoning Pakistan fisherfolk in return”, the said and urged all countries of South Asia to remove constraints on migration across borders in search of better livelihoods.

They demanded president and prime minister to convene a meeting with fisherfolk representatives and the joint judicial committee on prisoners so that the forthcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit could proudly announce an agreement for the protection of South Asian people’s rights to livelihood.

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