India, Pakistan start trade but no one cares for its fishermen

October 26th, 2008 - 1:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Oct 26 (IANS) Pakistan and India have opened up trade even through disputed Kashmir, but the poor fishermen of both the countries continue to suffer at the hands of maritime security agencies, which often catch them on charges of fishing in the territorial waters of the other nation and put them behind bars for long periods.Recently, a delegation of the All Gujarat Fishermen Foundation that was in Karachi but was not allowed to meet the Indian fishermen lodged in Pakistani jails, All Pakistan Fishermen Society (APFS) general secretary Rashid Memon told IANS.

He regretted that both the countries have started trade but that no one was caring about the poor fishermen who continue to suffer at the hands of the security forces.

He said the Indian fishermen delegation led by Walji Bhai was allowed to inspect the boats seized by Pakistani security forces but was refused permission to meet the Indian fishermen being kept in different jails of Karachi.

Memon said that according to his information more than 400 Indian fishermen are in Pakistani jails while about 90 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian jails.

He said occasionally fishermen from one country drift into the territorial waters of the other due to strong currents and are captured by security forces and put in jail where some even have to spend years.

The fishermen on both sides of the border are of the view that there is much more to arresting the fishermen than security concerns. Talking to IANS, leaders of fishermen’s organisations claimed that senior officials of the security agencies in both the countries encourage their juniors to arrest the fishermen soon after they cross the invisible marine border.

The leaders also point out that the border is not defined properly, and there are some disputes too.

Memon said that Walji claimed 379 Indian boats were captured by the Pakistani security forces but they were shown just 140. But the security forces said that most of the boats were lost in the sea. The boats that Walji saw were in bad shape; some even had their engines and other machinery removed, Memon said.

Memon visited the site with the Indian delegation. He said later: “We can tell after looking at the boats whether the damage was deliberate or accidental.”

A Pakistani fisherman who has been in an Indian jail said that when any boat and its crew are taken into custody by either side, “we usually have a lot of catch on the boat. The security people sell this fish and capture the boats, which are loaded with costly fishing nets. Sometimes we carry nets worth Rs.2-3 laks (Rs.200,000-300,000).

“But when the fishermen are released by either side, they get back their boats in bad shape. Most of the time they cannot even be repaired.”

Memon said even if security agencies arrested fishermen, they should send back the boats at once.

He wanted the governments of the two countries to “set up a permanent commission that should also include fishermen’s representatives from both the countries to resolve this issue”.

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