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Fishermen Face Brunt of India Pakistan Tensions

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

For fishermen in Pakistan's southern port of Karachi, seeking the biggest catches means routinely risking jail time. That's because the best fishing grounds in this part of the Indian Ocean lie between India and Pakistan — South Asian rivals that often are at loggerheads.

Last week, Pakistan released nearly 90 Indians, mostly fishermen, back to their country. But hundreds of Indian and Pakistani fishermen still languish in jails on both sides, charged with illegally crossing the border.

With no physical boundary or proper markings to guide them, it is easy for fishermen to cross the border unintentionally while sailing. Recently, they have started renting GPS systems. But arrests on both sides remain high. The number of fishermen in each other's jails at any given time is usually in the hundreds. Those captured can spend months in custody, although sometimes it takes much longer to regain their freedom.

Hajira's son has been in Indian custody for three years. He was 15 when he went on a fishing expedition against his mother's wishes. She has not seen him since.

"At night I miss my son the most," she said. "I think about whether he's eaten, whether he sleeps well, whether he is sick or in pain; this is what I think about at night."

The two governments agreed last year to release all fishermen within two weeks. Her son is still not home. As long as tensions continue between India and Pakistan, fishermen on both sides likely will keep paying the price.

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