05 May 2023  |   04:36am IST

SCO Meet and India-Pakistan Fishermen’s Plight

Ravi Nitesh

SCO Foreign ministers are meeting in Goa and would have been discussing many important issues which will enable them for a stronger regional cooperation. This meeting is seen as an important one for the reasons that India is a host country and along with other nations, it's immediate neighbors China and Pakistan are also taking part in the meeting while relations with both these countries have faced some tough times in recent past. But as there is nothing personal for the people's representatives who are representing their countries here and aims to deliver the best in interest of their own country and its people, there is always a good hope with such meetings that at least their personal meetings, shaking hands, facing each other would definitely help in melting the ice and would form a base of cordial relations further. 

India and Pakistan, particularly, desperately need their relations filled with understanding, mutual respect and with a vision for the future. As Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto is here and he is an educated youth who represents aspirations of Pakistani people and on Indian side, S Jaishankar is a polished minister , who already is an expert in external affairs and understands the importance, it is in interest on both sides that they together form an environment where future talks can be made. Even for SCO, this would be more fruitful if the platform can help in strengthening the relations among countries with a particular emphasis on India and Pakistan. 

In the recent past, though there have been tense relations at times, these years also have been very productive ones also in terms of India Pakistan relations. In an extraordinary achievement, India and Pakistan opened their first visa free corridors Kartarpur which is everyday sending a message for peace and can be a future ground for more such spiritual and cultural corridors. Another important achievement is the ceasefire agreement, which again resulted in a drastic decrease of Ceasefire violations (CFVs) and saved many lives of soldiers and border people on both sides.  

India and Pakistan may consider taking a few more steps which would be easy for their governments. Repatriation of fishermen and civilian prisoners to each other is one such issue. Fishermen on both sides come to Arabian sea for fishing in their trawlers and many a times, they ferry in the sea for even fifteen days to one month to catch the fish. During this, they move towards the deep sea to hold a good catch of fish and sometimes they cross the sea lines which are considered as maritime borders. At a few places, international maritime borders don't exist and both countries need to resolve and decide such issues, but maritime agencies of both sides detain such fishermen who cross these lines. After their arrest, their boats are seized and their fate remains in the dark. As they are just fishermen, sometimes authorities keep them in jails for months to years before releasing them from the land border. Their families remain starved at home and even after returning they do not get their boats back. 

This issue of fishermen needs to be taken up by these governments and to make arrangements for their early release. UN sea laws suggest that for such cases internationally, fishermen should be freed immediately with a minimum penalty in the sea itself. Years back, when Sushma Swaraj was India's foreign minister, she along with her Pakistani counterpart spoke about a joint statement in the Uffa summit that issues of fishermen would be taken up on priority. 

We hope that SCO meet would encourage the respective governments once again to rethink and strategize on many issues of importance , but this issue of fishermen shouldn't be lost and should find a place. 


Idhar Udhar