Picture Courtesy: The Nation

Pakistani authorities released 220 Indian fishermen from a jail in the port city of Karachi as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions over cross-border fire (Kashmir conflict) exchanges in recent weeks, state radio reported on Sunday. The Indian fishermen  had been arrested for entering Pakistani territorial waters for fishing illegally, Radio Pakistan reported.

Some 500 Indian fishermen had been imprisoned over the past year, accused of illegally entering Pakistani territorial waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is not clearly demarcated.

Detained Indian fishermen sit in a police facility in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday Dec 25, 2016.     Courtesy:- Daily Pakistan

According to Jail Superintendent Hassan Sehto, the Indian freed fishermen released from Karachi’s Malir District jail and they will be taken to the eastern city of Lahore via train, from where they will be handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border in Lahore.

“We have total of 518 Indian fishermen out of which 220 are being released today as a goodwill gesture of the Pakistan government. In the next phase, 219 fishermen will be released on January 5, next year.” Shunail Husain Shah, a police assistant superintendent, told Reuters.

India is also holding Pakistani fishermen for the same reason and Pakistan hopes its gesture- on the birthday of the nation’s father, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which coincides with Christmas Day- will be reciprocated.

The Indian fishermen have been released at a time when the relations between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors are tense following the attack on an Indian army base in the Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri in September that killed 19 soldiers, which New Delhi blames, the attack was carried out by Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), had earlier said that India should forward a similar reciprocal move after this goodwill gesture from the Pakistan and release Pakistani fishermen (156 Pakistani fishermen including 13 children are languishing in Indian jails) held by Indian authorities.