Pakistan halts repatriation of Indian nationals, months after abrogation of Article 370

The nations exchange list of civilian prisoners and fishermen of each country lodged in the respective jails on January 1 and July 1 every year, according to the India-Pakistan ‘Agreement on Consular Access’ signed on May 21, 2008.

Pakistan halts repatriation of Indian nationals, months after abrogation of Article 370

New Delhi: Pakistan has halted the release and repatriation of five Indian nationals and many fishermen who have completed their sentence and were waiting to be sent back. According to the list exchanged on July 1, Pakistan has 209 Indian fishermen and 52 Indian prisoners in its custody while India has 256 Pakistani civilian prisoners and 99 fishermen in its custody.

The nations exchange list of civilian prisoners and fishermen of each country lodged in the respective jails on January 1 and July 1 every year, according to the India-Pakistan ‘Agreement on Consular Access’ signed on May 21, 2008.

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In fact, on August 5 when India announced the abrogation of Article 370, the removal of special status for the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan had halted repatriation at Attari border of two Indians who were about to be sent back.

To resolve humanitarian issues related to elderly, women and mentally unsound prisoners in each other’s custody and consider their early release and repatriation, India in October 2017 had suggested to Pakistan to revive the mechanism of Joint Judicial Committee.

New Delhi had also said a team of Indian medical experts should be allowed to visit the mentally unsound prisoners in Pakistan with a view to facilitating their verification of nationality and subsequent repatriation.

While India did share the details of the medical experts' team and the reconstituted Joint Judicial Committee with Pakistan with the request to organise their visit, Islamabad has not responded so far.

In its first term, the Narendra Modi government was able to secure the release of 1,749 Indian prisoners, including 1,725 fishermen along with 57 boats.

India has also asked Islamabad to provide consular access to two Indians--Prasanth Vaindan from Hyderabad and Wari Lal from Madhya Pardesh who Pakistan had claimed to have arrested from Bahawalpur in Punjab province on Monday. According to sources, the two Indians had inadvertently crossed into Pakistan way back in 2017 but what is perplexing is the manner in which information came through the media from the other side on Monday. 

India through diplomatic channels, in the case of Prasanth Vaindan, last raised the matter in May 2019 and in Bari Lal's case raised the matter in December 2018 with Pakistan and had sought consular access both times but got no response.

There are other cases of the inadvertent crossing as well that has happened in the past, and India has also asked consular access and early repatriation of those Indians.

India in December 2018, had repatriated two Pakistani nationals -Imran Warsi and Abdullah Shah —to Pakistan after Islamabad released Indian national Hamid Nehal Ansari who was in a Pakistan jail for six years.

Imran Warsi, a Karachi resident was in an Indian jail for 10 years on charges of keeping a fake passport. He had come to India on a valid visa in 2004 and fell in love with an Indian girl and overstayed. Abdullah Shah, a resident of Swat of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province had crossed over to India in 2017 to meet Bollywood star, Shah Rukh Khan. Abdullah was autistic.