India and Pakistan have agreed to release fishermen and prisoners who have served out their prison terms in each other’s custody by August 14-15 and finalised the protocol on consular access to give prisoners quicker access to government representatives.
The two have also made “considerable progress” towards early finalisation and signing of the Visa Agreement, a joint statement at the end of the home secretary-level talks on Tuesday night said. “It is aimed at liberalising the stringent visa regime without compromising security concerns,” a Home Ministry official said.
At the talks, New Delhi raised its concerns on “terrorism and fugitives” (read cross-border terror and Pakistan-supported infiltration) but did not let a difference of positions slow down progress elsewhere. They also condemned all acts of terror and underlined the “imperative need” for effective and sustained measures against terrorist activities.
“The two sides recognised that terrorists and criminals in either country need to be given swift and effective punishment,” said the statement, finalised shortly before Pakistan interior secretary Syed Kamal Shah cut short his visit to deal with the Lal Masjid standoff back home. Indian officials said Shah, who was asked to return immediately on Tuesday evening, however, stayed back and worked with Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta to fast-track discussions to compress the two-day talks into one day.
Shah had, soon after his arrival, hinted that issues close to people on either side were top of the priority list. It was a point borne out by the results of Tuesday’s discussions; the protocol on consular access is an example.
The home secretaries also vetted the committee on prisoners comprising retired judges as a “useful instrument”. It has been agreed that action will be initiated to hold two meetings — one in each country — within three months.