THE Gujarat delegation which returned from Pakistan after overseeing the successful return of 57 fishing boats to Porbandar was all praise for the western neighbors on Monday.
The delegation, led by Pravinchandra Malli, assistant director of Fisheries of Vadodara, had landed in Karachi on March 9 to coordinate efforts for repatriating the trawlers. The delegation remained in Karachi till March 22 when the Pakistan Marine Security Agency (PMSA) delivered the fishing boats to the Indian Coast Guard some 105 nautical miles off Karachi on the Indo-Pak International Maritime Boundary Line in the Arabian Sea. As India got custody of the boats, the delegation boarded the return flight and landed back in Ahmedabad early on Monday morning.
The delegation had a daunting task of getting all the boats repaired and make them seaworthy in days before the deadline of March 31, Pakistan had set to claim the boats. In frantic activities, amidst bombing incidents in Karachi, the delegation held a series of meetings with officers of PMSA, local contractors and technicians to get the job done. But delegation members admitted the task would have been difficult without the cooperation of Pakistani authorities.
“Pakistan authorities knew that we had very little time. Repairing engines would have taken months. So, we had to do repairs in days. Contractors quoted 59,000 Pakistani rupees for repairing hulls of boats. But PMSA officers told the contractors they cannot manipulate the situation and forced them to repair hulls at 32,000 Pakistani rupees. Similarly, officers helped reduce towing contract prices by almost half,” Malli told The Indian Express on Monday.
Pravin Rada, assistant superintendent of fisheries at Mangrol in Junagadh district, also said the PMSA helped their cause a great deal.
“Our home secretary had told us wind up the entire operation in 10 days. But the contractors said repairs would take at least three weeks. However, Commander Azim Sidiqqui of PMSA told contractors the repairs would have to be completed in a week. PMSA also arranged for boats to take us to Baba and Bhit islands off Karachi where seized Gujarat boats had been anchored and repair was going on,” said Rada.
The delegation had put up at a private hotel and Pakistan had stationed a special team of police officers for their security.
A few delegation members even went around Karachi under a security cover. “We went for darshan at Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple in Clifton area thrice. Eyes of auto-drivers would light up whey they learn that we are from Gujarat. They would say, for example, oh, we have a relative in Bilkha of Junagadh. They would not demand even fare,” said Aravind Panjari, one of the fishermen’s leaders on the delegation.
Panjari said that they also went shopping and found from their behaviour and body-language that people were welcoming.
“The response from Pakistan authorities was unbelievable. I had not thought of getting such a warm welcome and respect in Pakistan in my wildest dream. I am convinced common people in Pakistan are not hostile to Indians and surely not all the officers in Pakistan security establishment are hawkish when it comes to India,” said Panjari, a resident of Porbandar.
However, the delegation also realised perils of living in Karachi.
“We wanted to go for darshan at Hanuman Temple in Soldier Bazar on Saturday. However, there was a bomb blast in other part of the city on Friday and therefore we had cancel our plan,” Panjari reflected.
The fishermen’s leaders also met their Pakistan counterparts at a meeting arranged by PMSA. “Pakistan fishermen demanded that India should reciprocate by releasing their boats in custody of Indian authorities. I belive, this is a fair demand and government takes prompt action,” Panjari, who had also visited Karachi in last August in connection with release of the boats, added.
There are around 170 Pakistan boats in custody of India.