India and Pakistan have agreed to release fishermen and prisoners, held in each other's custody who have served their prison sentences, by August 14-15 and finalised the protocol on consular access to give prisoners quicker access to their government representatives.
The two sides 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 that concluded late on Tuesday night said. Officials said the visa agreement under negotiation was aimed at making significant improvements over the existing restrictive regime. "It is aimed at liberalising the stringent visa regime without compromising security concerns," a Union home ministry official said.
New Delhi did raise its concerns relating to "terrorism and fugitives" - a euphuism for cross-border terrorism and Pakistan-supported infiltration - but did not let a difference of positions on this count slow down progress elsewhere. The two sides did, nevertheless, strongly condemn all acts of terrorism and underline 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 joint statement finalised shortly before Pakistan interior secretary Syed Kamal Shah had to cut short his visit to deal with the Lal Masjid standoff in Islamabad.
Indian officials said Shah, who was been asked to return immediately early on Tuesday evening, however, stayed back and worked with Union home secretary, Madhukar Gupta to fast-track the discussions to compress the two-day talks into one day. "The wrap up session scheduled for today was held late into the evening… Shah finally left the Capital well past midnight," an official said, pointing that he did leave behind a team of more than dozen officials who continued to follow up on the decisions taken.
Shah had, soon after his arrival in the Capital on Tuesday, hinted that issues close to people on either sides of the border were at the top of their priority list. It was a point that has been borne out by the results of Tuesday's discussions; the protocol on consular access is an example. The two countries currently do not have an institutionalised mechanism of providing consular access to nationals of the other country. In the absence of such a mechanism, high commissions of the two countries receive delayed information of the arrest of their citizens, further putting of any possibility of verification of their nationality and subsequent release on completion of their prison term.
The home secretaries also vetted the committee on prisoners comprising retired judges as a "useful instrument" to facilitate release and repatriation of prisoners who have served their sentence. It has been agreed that action would be initiated to hold two meetings - one in each country - within three months. It is expected that the necessary reconciliation of the number of prisoners on both sides would be completed by then.