Humanitarian interventions

Kashmir Times. Dated: 7/4/2018 1:40:48 PM

Exchange of prisoners list, visas for Pak pilgrims are good signs and reveal signs of hopes for renewing better diplomatic engagement

The fresh visas issued to 160 Pakistan pilgrims for the Urs of Amir Khusro as part of the bilateral commitment to promote religious tourism and as per the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on Visit to Religious Shrines imbues a whiff of optimism in the sub-continent at a time when the bilateral relations between India-Pakistan have reached an all time low. Added to this the recent exchange of list of prisoners between the two countries is yet another move forward. However, these two significant but stray endeavours for keeping diplomatic engagement on track do not signal the beginning of the road towards a more structured peace process. The issuance of visas which in recent times, especially in the last one year, has been subject to excessive whims and a policy of stinginess particularly by the Indian government which denied entry to Pakistani pilgrims for Ajmer Sharief as recently as March. It had also mostly blocked the process of issuing visas for other purposes barring hosting a multi-lateral Pakistani delegation last week and Pakistan too had responded with similar denials of visas. In this light, the visas issued to Pakistani pilgrims now are a welcome move but more such endeavours are needed to make this a regular affair. Equally welcome is the exchange of list of civilian prisoners and fishermen lodged in each other's jails as per the provision of a bilateral agreement on prisoners. Pakistan has shared with India a list of 53 Indian civilian prisoners and 418 fishermen in its custody and India too handed over to Pakistan a list of 249 civilian prisoners and 108 fishermen from that country lodged in Indian jails. This list does not include the names of Kulbhushan Jadhav and Hamid Ansari who have been arrested on espionage charges by Pakistan. Both sides have also sought the release of the prisoners who have completed their sentences and whose nationality have been confirmed. In the last few months, despite the souring of relations, Islamabad and New Delhi have also been working on a mechanism for release and repatriation of aged, infirm and minor prisoners. A Joint Judicial Committee has also been recently reconstituted.
While the whimsical manner in which Islamabad and Delhi are moving back and forth on issues that are essentially humanitarian in nature needs a more committed and structured process. The fresh development enhance the hopes of strengthening the bilateral ties, atleast on humanitarian grounds, despite the ongoing hostility at the borders and the belligerent mode in which the political leaderships on the two sides have presently cocooned themselves. Last month when the border hostility reached a crescendo, the DGMOs of India and Pakistan met to diffuse the tensions which have lessened a bit but not substantially. These developments reflect that despite all the ongoing tensions and the India versus Pakistan discourses hitting shocking levels of animosity and bellicose rhetoric, diplomatic processes have not quite been totally abandoned. That there is no breakdown of ties altogether in the deepening mistrust between the two countries is an optimistic sign and needs to be welcomed and encouraged. The minimal progress made on humanitarian issues despite a relationship that is passing through a difficult phase needs to be further made more broad-based. Atleast the mechanisms related to humanitarian issues and allowing people to people contact should be better structured to regularize the to and fro movement across the borders, irrespective of the ups and downs of the India-Pakistan relations. While these are necessary to ensure that ordinary lives are not hit by the political discourse, continuation and strengthening of such efforts can also aid the possibility of formal resumption of dialogue. It can only be hoped that the latter takes place soon. Resolution of long pending disputes between the two countries is hinged on that. Besides, diplomatic engagement on humanitarian issues too can sustain itself better in a climate of talks and dialogue.



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