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India-Pakistan: Need For UFA Implementation

By Ravi Nitesh

09 February, 2016

With the recent case of 7th Feb of arrests of 12 Indian fishermen by Pakistan Maritime Agency and arrest of 11 Pakistani fishermen by Indian coast guards a day before, it seems that victimisation and sufferings of fishermen have not stopped despite several efforts of civil societies and promises by governments of India and Pakistan.

One such important promise was done during Ufa meet, where issues of fishermen was one among the points discussed. There is need to review Ufa promise again and to build a permanent solution towards this issue.

Ufa meet of Indian and Pakistani prime ministers that was held on 10th July 2015 on the sidelines of SCO summit in Ufa, Russia and joint declaration in the same evening, it was hoped that some positive waves of peace diplomacy are on their way, but later, with the unexpected controversy over NSA talks (that was one of the point in joint declaration) and its cancellation led the whole situation in an unpredictable mode, however later the promise was made through the meeting of NSAs in third country.

On the second point of joint declaration, where an early meeting of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers was proposed, recently held talks of BSF (led by BSF DG D. K. Pathak along with 23 members delegation) and Pakistani Rangers (led by DG Pakistani Rangers-Punjab Maj Gen Umar Farooq Burki along with 16 members delegation) at New Delhi during 9th to 12th September came as positive and in-the-line with Ufa statement. It sends a message that whatever were the reasons and results in past, but both the governments are adopting a flexible and concrete approach towards each other and have put their faith in dialogue.

Though, this talk was part of bi-annual talks and reviews the implementation of the agreed norms of cooperation between the two Border Guarding Forces, as agreed during the Home Secretary Level Talks held at Islamabad, Pakistan in May 1989, but organizing it within two months of Ufa summit is fulfilling Ufa promises.

This meeting was formally started on 10th September, the joint statement signed at 11 hrs on 12th September and issued by MHA in evening with positive notes that both sides discussed issues of border population, mechanism for safe return of inadvertent crossers and others. Text of joint statement reads ‘The talks were held in a constructive atmosphere. The need for cooperation to maintain the sanctity of the borders was stressed upon. The meeting took up specific issues of concern. Incidents of firing at the borders, smuggling of narcotics, infiltration attempts and defence construction activities were discussed. The issue of inadvertent crossing over by border population and on how to facilitate their return on both the sides was also discussed. The security of the border population being a primary concern of the both sides, it was felt that utmost caution and care would be taken to deal with the civilians. The need for confidence building measures including timely exchange of information, at the field level and mobile communication, simultaneous coordinated patrolling, and sporting events etc. were also discussed.’

Media reporting was also done in effective manner and even humane angle like sitting of Maj Gen Umar in the vehicle of DG BSF Mr. Pathak, friendly talks etc were also highlighted and showed an important message that how even security personals of India and Pakistan, while meeting each other share humane and emotional angle and not only professional one.

It is also expected that next meeting will be held in Pakistan in first half of 2016. In fact, PM Narendra Modi will also be in Pakistan in 2016 as he accepted invitation from Nawaz Sharif during Ufa meeting, to attend SAARC summit.

With all these things happening since Ufa declaration, it seems that despite unsuccessful NSA talks, both countries at least did not hesitate in talking each other. But when we go back to Ufa joint declaration again, we find that the joint declaration that was issued had five main points that included a meeting in New Delhi between thee two NSAs , Early meetings of DG BSF and DG Pakistan Rangers followed by that of DGMOs , Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody along with their boats within a period of 15 days, Mechanism for facilitating religious tourism and to discuss ways and means to expedite Mumbai case trial.

Ufa Points : Concerned to common people of both sides

In the five mentioned points, there are two points, one of fishermen and another of religious tourism, that directly facilitate people of both sides, rather than policies. It is a wonder to see that both countries took decision for fishermen to release along with their boats within 15 days, but unfortunately, it could not be achieved yet.

Indo-Pak Fishermen and their victimisation

Fishermen are one of the most vulnerable communities affected by Indo-Pak conflict. India and Pakistan connect with each other through Arabian sea and fishermen live in large numbers on both sides as both countries provide good coastal lines and trade of fish. As these fishermen go towards deep sea for fishing, where they complete one fishing trip in 10-12 days. Many times during fishing, these fishermen cross IMBL (International Maritime Boundary Line) or enter in disputed regions of Sir creek. It is a matter of fact that still both the countries have not completely agreed over their maritime boundary line and therefore it is only ‘administrative zone’ where security personals keep vigil.

Such crossings by fishermen happens inadvertently and due to reasons that there is no ‘visible’ boundary line in sea, neither it can be made in deep sea, and fishermen cannot know that at which point of time, they crossed certain nautical miles and latitude-longitude defined by governments. Also, as they stay in sea during 10-12 days, many times they put ankles of their boats on sea and sleep at night, during which even high and strong waves and wind displace their boats gradually and it enters in ‘administrative’ zone of another country. Their reasons of going towards IMBL includes good catch of fish, as they (fishermen) say that due to heavy industrialization in coastal areas and unchecked waste disposal in sea, most of the fish moved towards deep sea as fish could not survive in polluted coastal sea areas. Another reason is that, near IMBL, fish catch is good due to its depth and a region where saline water of sea and sweet water coming from Indus get mixed with each other. These fishermen are poor and living on their traditional profession of fishing since generations that went back before partition of India and Pakistan. Few old fishermen believe that as they were doing fishing in sea since generations, they consider whole sea belongs to them and this is a connection that includes emotions and oneness.

On crossing of this invisible maritime border, on in entering to disputed regions of sir creek, these fishermen got trapped by coast guards and maritime agencies of India and Pakistan. Fishermen also allege that sometimes, coast guards of other country (India/Pakistan) even cross maritime boundary to catch fishermen.

After arrest of these fishermen, they are lodged in jails in other country. But as they are not criminals, many times they have been kept without imposing any charge upon them. They live in jails till the time any mercy or good will gesture comes. Few of them spent many years in jails. It was also seen that persons who were arrested on same time from same boat were got released in different years.

One fishing trawler that is able for fishing in deep sea comes in around 25 lakhs. Approx 6-10 fishermen go for fishing on one trawler. As, many fishermen do not have capability to buy it, some of them take it on loans on high interest from local private bankers. It is because; nationalized banks do not provide loans upon boats as fishing comes under risky business. Other fishermen make groups and take boat on rent from local businessmen on per trip basis. In both cases, they are under high pressure to return with good catch of fish. Now, at the time of their arrest in other country, their boats, net, fish also got captured by coastal security agencies. But unfortunately, whenever they got released, their release happened from Wagha Border. Fishermen community demanded many times that when they were captured at sea, they must get released through sea only. It is because, while their release from border, they get only half freedom, as their boats could not be released. When they reach their home, they come in multiple troubles, as they need to pay interest or rent amount to lender, they need to arrange immediate resource for livelihood survival. Fishermen tell that earlier their boats were released through sea, but since last 15 years boats were not released. Hundreds of such boats are lying useless in India and Pakistan and dying without their sailors.

What UN Says:

Article 73 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea clearly states that, though arrest can be made (clause 1), arrested vessels and their crews shall be promptly released upon the posting of reasonable bond or other security (clause 2). In addition, it holds in clause 3 that coastal state penalties for violation of fisheries laws and regulations in the exclusive economic zone may not include imprisonment, in the absence of agreements to the contrary by the States concerned or any other form of corporal punishment.

Importance of Ufa statement for fishermen

This Ufa declaration considered one of the genuine demands of community. Till now, release of these fishermen was depend on ‘mercy’ and ‘good will gesture’ of governments and it was seen that how during many last occasions , these fishermen were released from each other jails as peace doves. Both governments maintain a good number of such fishermen.

As per the list exchanged between Government of India and Pakistan on 01 July 2015, 403 Indian prisoners (48 civil and 355 fishermen) are in jails of Pakistan and 278 Pakistani prisoners (251 civil and 27 fishermen) lodged in Indian jails. These numbers vary frequently and on an average, there are 100-200 fishermen on both sides of jails.

But Ufa statement, through including their genuine demand, recognized their problem and provided them dignity. The only wait is of implementation of the same at the earliest. If both the governments can implement their promise at the earliest, it will be a great breathe of life for fishermen on both sides. Also, governments must take a step forward, to ensure that such arrests should be avoided and if found necessary, and then should be done with immediate penalty and release of fishermen along with their boats through sea route only.

Ravi Nitesh, Core member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative) E-mail: ravinitesh@gmail.com Twitter: ravinitesh



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