NEW DELHI, India - In a historic move that has signalled a thaw in the relationship between rival South Asian neighbours, India and Pakistan have agreed to exchange prisoners.
As part of the agreement, which is a humanitarian gesture first suggested by India, three categories of prisoners, women, mentally challenged or those with special needs and those above 70 years of age will be included.
The move also comes as the two countries continue to exchange fire across the border in Kashmir, in violation of a 2003 agreement.
It has been cited as a key confidence-building measure between the two countries.
On Wednesday, the Pakistan foreign office said in a statement that Islamabad had approved the proposals for exchange of prisoners and the revival of a judicial commission set up to expedite the speedy release of prisoners who had finished their sentences.
The Pakistan high commission in New Delhi said that the country’s foreign minister Khawaja Asif, after consultations with “all stakeholders,” had approved the proposals received from the Indian side.
Another aspect in the proposal seeks to revive the judicial commission and a third seeks to facilitate “the visit of medical experts (from both sides) to meet and examine the mentally challenged prisoners for their repatriation,” the Pakistan statement said.
The Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said that India first made these proposals in October.
Pakistan has suggested on its part that it would also want to exchange prisoners above 60 years of age and the exchange of child prisoners below 18 years of age.
The spokesman added, “The foreign minister... stated that it was his desire that through such initiatives, Pakistan and India would embark on the road to a comprehensive dialogue, and make a conscious effort to de-escalate the extremely vitiated current environment and the situation on the Line of Control and the working boundary (International Border).”
Kumar also acknowledged the positive response from Pakistan and said, “The officials on both sides would be working on the modalities to implement the understanding reached on these humanitarian issues.”
Meanwhile, Dilip Sinha, a former Indian diplomat who was in charge of the Pakistan desk in the Indian foreign ministry said, “Pakistan’s response to India’s proposals comes six months after they were first put forward. The timing of the response is intriguing as it seems to be under pressure from India as well as the U.S. and wants to de-escalate.”
Since 2013, India-Pakistan talks have been suspended and efforts to revive them subsequently have not worked out so far.