India and Pakistan agree to release fishermen on I Day


New Delhi : India and Pakistan Wednesday decided to release prisoners and fishermen whose nationalities have been verified and who have completed their sentences by Aug 15, and also promised effective measures against terrorism.

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A joint statement at the end of the fourth round of talks between the home secretaries of both countries on terrorism and drug trafficking stated that steps would be taken to release fishing boats, excluding trawlers, in each other's custody on their respective Independence Day.

Home ministry officials said New Delhi is seeking the release of about 500 fishermen held in Pakistani jails without access to consular officials.

A joint briefing by both secretaries scheduled Wednesday was cancelled as Pakistani Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah cut short his two-day visit because of the clash between security forces and militant students in Islamabad's besieged Lal Masjid.

It was agreed that the recently formed Committee on Prisoners, comprising eminent retired judges from the two countries, was a useful instrument to facilitate the release and repatriation of prisoners who had served their prison sentences.

"Action would be initiated to hold two meetings, one in India and the other in Pakistan, within a period of three months by which time the necessary reconciliation of numbers of prisoners on both sides would have been completed," said the joint statement.

The joint statement was surprisingly silent on the demands to be raised by two sides regarding individuals wanted in various crimes.

India was expected to raise the extradition of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Maulana Masood Azhar, wanted for the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Afghanistan and who is reportedly in Pakistan.

"The talks didn't achieve any breakthroughs. We basically went over what we discussed last time (in May 2006 in Islamabad) with a little value addition," a home ministry official said.

Separate working groups discussed in detail the drafts of the revised visa and consular access agreements aimed at liberalising and making existing provisions more effective.

"The text of the Agreement on Consular Access has been finalised. Also, they made considerable progress towards early finalisation and signing of the visa agreement," said the statement.

It was agreed that India's Narcotics Control Bureau and Pakistan's Anti Narcotics Force would take steps to control drug trafficking and that a memorandum of understanding between the agencies would be signed at the earliest.

The secretary level talks are part of the continuing composite dialogue process between the two countries that have helped boost cooperation in combating terrorism and rebuild diplomatic, transport and sporting links since 2003.