Delhi denies visas to Pakistanis while Islamabad frees 145 Indian fishermen


ISLAMABAD: India rejected issuing visas to Pakistani pilgrims who were to visit Delhi to participate in the Urs celebrations of a revered Sufi saint while Islamabad freed 145 Indian fishermen from prison as a goodwill gesture and promised to set free dozens more in the coming week.

Analysts believe that these “small gestures”, like this one made by Pakistan, might help in placating tensions, despite a verbal spat between Islamabad and New Delhi,

“We can’t expect major developments but goodwill gestures do help in improving ties,” Nadeem Mirza, assistant professor at the School of Politics and International Relations in Quaid-i-Azam University, told an international media outlet.

The released Indian fishermen were handed over to Indian authorities at a Wagha-Attari border crossing near Lahore.

These fishermen were held in Malir prison in Karachi for illegally fishing in Pakistani territorial waters. Pakistan decided on December 21 to release and repatriate 291 Indian fishermen in two phases starting on December 29.

“About 555 Pakistani prisoners are in Indian jails on various charges including drug trafficking and visa and passport rules violations, along with fishermen who inadvertently crossed over into Indian waters,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal said in a statement.

According to the 2008 bilateral agreement, both New Delhi and Islamabad exchange a list of nationals held in jails twice a year, on January 1 and July 1. Pakistan released 68 Indian fishermen in October this year.

The bilateral ties between the two nuclear neighbours have been in tension since the countries gained independence from the British Empire in 1947. Having fought three wars, both India and Pakistan have a list of outstanding issues.

On Saturday, Pakistan “regretted” the last-minute postponement and non-issuance of visas by India for 192 Pakistanis to visit New Delhi. Those seeking visas wanted to pay tributes at the mausoleum of a great scholar of 14th century, Nizamuddin Auliya, on the occasion of his death anniversary.

The statement added that besides being volatile toward the bilateral protocol and the basic human right to religious freedom, such measures also undermined the efforts aimed at improving the environment, increasing people-to-people contacts and normalizing relations between the two countries.