In a goodwill gesture, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today ordered the release of 151 Indian fishermen and 57 boats, a day ahead of the visit of his visit to India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi.
Authorities released 59 Indian fishermen from the Malir jail in Karachi and another 92 from Nara jail in Hyderabad in Sindh province.
In accordance with Sharif's instructions, the prisoners will be handed over to Indian authorities tomorrow at Wagah/Attari border, the Prime Minister's Office said in a press release.
A senior official at Hyderabad jail said that a total of 97 Indian fishermen were shifted from Landhi jail Karachi to Hyderabad in January this year.
Four Indian fishermen remained in the prison as their verification was not done by the Indian authorities, he added.
He confirmed that earlier this month, Indian fisherman Arvind, 75, who was lodged at Hyderabad prison, died of tuberculosis.
The freed prisoners were taken in an air-conditioned bus from Karachi to Wagah border in Lahore.
Handing over of the boats is also being coordinated with the Indian government, the statement said.
Pakistan is releasing all those fishermen whose status as Indian nationals has been confirmed by Indian authorities.
Some of the freed prisoners told Geo News channel that they were delighted to be going back to their families.
"We were treated well and not as serious criminals but everyone wants to go home to their families," one prisoner said.
"I am delighted to be released," said 55-year-old Jagdesh, whose son's wedding was postponed after his arrest by Pakistan Navy.
"Now my son's wedding will be held," said Jagdesh.
This is the first time in many years that any side has decided to release the boats of these fishermen and it is Pakistan which is taking the first step, the statement said.
Pakistan has always said the "issue of prisoners in our respective countries is a humanitarian one and should be taken in that spirit".
"According to our figures, there are 521 Pakistani prisoners in India, including 168 fishermen," the statement said, adding "Government of Pakistan hopes that they too will be able to return to their loved ones in Pakistan soon."
Last year in August, Pakistan had released around 337 Indian prisoners from jails. Later on Diwali also, 15 Indian fishermen were released as a goodwill gesture.
Pakistan maritime security forces frequently arrest Indian fishermen and seize their boats for fishing in its territorial waters.
According to Indian activists, at present around 229 Indian fishermen and about 780 Indian boats are in the custody of Pakistan.
In addition to this, 23 boats of Indian fishermen had been confiscated just during the ongoing fishing season.