Islamabad’s decision to free prisoners has been welcomed by New Delhi as a diplomatic gesture.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday ordered the release of 151 Indian prisoners ahead of his historic visit to New Delhi to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as premier.
Islamabad’s move to free the prisoners—mostly fishermen accused of violating Pakistan’s territorial waters—was welcomed by India as a diplomatic gesture ahead of the inauguration Monday.
Modi’s invitation to Sharif to attend the ceremony has been widely seen as a bold diplomatic statement that he intends to improve strained ties between the South Asian neighbors.
Sharif’s attendance will be a first in the history of the neighbors, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and remain bitterly divided over the disputed region of Kashmir and other issues.
“The prime minister has instructed that 151 Indian prisoners currently detained in Pakistani jails and 57 Indian fishing boats in Pakistani custody should be released on Monday,” said a senior government official. “Pakistan has always held that the issue of prisoners in our respective countries is a humanitarian one and should be taken in that spirit,” the official said. Last August Pakistan released some 340 Indian fishermen on humanitarian grounds.
India’s foreign ministry said Pakistan had notified New Delhi of its intention to free the prisoners as a “goodwill gesture” to coincide with the swearing-in. “It’s always good to welcome back our prisoners who have been in custody for some time,” foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told CNN-IBN television network.
Akbaruddin also applauded in a tweet Sri Lanka’s decision to release five Indians detained for allegedly illegally fishing in the island’s waters. Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the release before his visit to Delhi for the ceremony, his office said in Colombo.
Modi invited Sharif and other neighboring heads of government from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to Monday’s swearing-in. Modi will be sworn in as prime minister 10 days after his rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in a landslide, securing the biggest majority by a single party in 30 years.