Pakistan released 14 Indian civilian prisoners in last 4 years, while India released 124 Pakistani civilian prisoners.
Hamid Nihal Ansari's case has highlighted the case of many Indian nationals languishing in Pakistani jails despite completing their terms. There are also hundreds of Pakistan prisoners who are serving their sentence in Indian jails for various offences.
However, the analysis of data reveals how more civilian Pakistani prisoners returned home than the Indians.
According to Ministry of External Affairs, Pakistan released 14 Indian civilian prisoners in last 4 years, while India released 124 Pakistani civilian prisoners. In 2018 itself, with the inclusion of Hamid Ansari, Pakistan released just 2 Indian civilian prisoners while New Delhi released 10 Pakistani civilian prisoners.
Clearly, for every prisoner released by Pakistan in 2018, India released 5.
However, when it comes to fishermen, Pakistan has shown a more humane approach. Islamabad released 1,514 Indian fishermen in last 4 year while 155 Pakistani fishermen were released by the Indian authorities. In 2018, Pakistan released 148 Indian fishermen while India none.
Under the India-Pakistan ‘Agreement on Consular Access’ signed on May 21, 2008, the two countries exchange list of civilian prisoners and fishermen of each country lodged in the jails of the other every six months - January 1 and July 1.
According to the lists exchanged on July 1 this year, there were 108 Pakistan fishermen and 249 Pakistan civilian prisoners in India’s custody. Pakistan has acknowledged the custody of 418 fishermen and 53 civilian prisoners who are Indian or believed-to-be Indian.
There are also many who remain unacknowledged by Pakistan. Islamabad has not acknowledged the custody of 83 missing Indian Defence personnel.
Speaking in the Parliament earlier this year, Minister of State in MEA, VK Singh assured that the "Government regularly takes up the issue of early release and repatriation of Indian fishermen along with their boats with the Pakistan authorities."
Jatin Desai, the man who is worked tirelessly for the release of Hamid Ansari had called on governments of India and Pakistan to release more prisoners and look the issue in a humane way. "We also believe, there are many prisoners. Hamid is not alone. They need to be released. They need to be seen from a humanitarian perspective. Hamid can set an example," Mr Desai told WION.
33-year-old Ansari was detained in 2012 after he entered the country from Afghanistan and subsequently sentenced to three years' imprisonment by a military court in 2015 for possessing a fake Pakistani identity card. He was released from a Pakistani jail and returned to India on Tuesday.
The External Affairs Minister, in October 2017, had suggested to the High Commissioner of Pakistan that the two sides could work together to resolve humanitarian issues related to elderly, women and mentally unsound prisoners in each other’s custody and consider their early release and repatriation. It was proposed to revive the mechanism of Joint Judicial Committee and that a team of Indian medical experts could be allowed to visit the mentally unsound prisoners with a view to facilitate their nationality verification and subsequent repatriation. Pakistan responded positively on 7 March 2018.
In a press release welcoming Nehal's release, MEA said that it hoped that Pakistan would "respond and organize an early visit of the Joint Judicial Committee so that the issues of prisoners can be dealt with in a humanitarian and timely manner"
India has shared the details of the medical experts' team and the reconstituted Joint Judicial Committee to Pakistan with a request to organise their visit. Pakistan has not responded so far.