Prisoners’ plight may cast shadow on India-Pakistan talks

May 11th, 2008 - 10:07 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, May 11 (IANS) The May 21 meeting between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers in Islamabad was to help push forward the peace process between the two neighbours but reports of the “plight” of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails may now cast a shadow over it. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will travel to Islamabad to hold talks with Pakistan’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi for the first foreign minister-level meeting since the Feb 18 elections in Pakistan. A day before they meet, the foreign secretaries of the two countries will hold talks.

Reports from Pakistan, however, suggest that the death of two Pakistani prisoners in India in recent months may take its toll on the talks.

“The situation on prisoners has worsened to an extent that it can overshadow the forthcoming bilateral talks being held in Islamabad,” the Pakistani news agency APP said Sunday.

Quoting diplomatic sources, it added: “Addressing the issue at this critical time can prove to be the biggest confidence-building measure.”

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led coalition government in Islamabad that came to power in March this year has identified “improvement of relations with India” as one of its priorities.

The Congress-led government in New Delhi has matched the sentiments and expressed its desire to create new areas of cooperation with Pakistan to strengthen the bilateral ties further.

However, India’s Border Security Force Saturday handed over the body of a Pakistani national, Mohammed Akram, to the Pakistani Rangers, 10 days after he died in an Indian prison.

Akram, a 32-year-old clerk in the Pakistani government’s education department, strayed into India in February. His family members said he was suffering from brain tumour. He died in a hospital in Amritsar of Punjab in police custody.

Jail authorities conducted an autopsy on him and said the death was due to natural causes but the stitch marks made his family members suspicious that he might have been tortured while in the Indian prison.

Some months back, another Pakistani prisoner, Khalid Mehmood, also died while he was in jail in Gurgaon, near here.

On the other hand, India is rooting for pardoning Sarabjit Singh, an Indian facing the death sentence on terrorism charge in Pakistan. Singh, who has been in a Lahore jail for 16 years, says he is innocent.

Last month, Mukherjee issued an appeal to the Pakistani government requesting Sarabjit Singh’s release.

He was to be executed May 1, but following the external affairs minister’s appeal along with plea for clemency from the Indian prisoner’s family, the new government in Islamabad put off his execution “indefinitely”.

Pakistan earlier this year released Kashmir Singh, an Indian national who had spent 36 years in a Pakistani prison.

Both India and Pakistan say each of them has about 500 prisoners in either’s jails.

Several meetings have been held between the two countries in the past to bring in more “transparency” in dealing with the prisoners’ issue. But officials from the two sides complain that the agreed principles of “informing each other immediately” of the arrest of the other’s national is ignored more often than not.

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