During the past few days there have been two significant releases of Indians from Pakistani prisons. On Thursday Surjit Singh was handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing – and he promptly admitted that he was here to spy when he was arrested in 1982. A day later the Indian government denied, not very convincingly, that he was ever a spy. Surjit said he had been well-treated during the years he had spent in Pakistani prisons. He will go into the history books as a footnote to the ongoing saga of tensions, hostilities and efforts for and attempts at peace between India and Pakistan. Spy he was, but a minor player in the great game of espionage that ebbs and flows every day. India is undoubtedly running agents here as these words are read. So are any number of other countries. Pakistan is a place of considerable interest to the intelligence arms of nations around the world, and we need hardly be surprised that they are sometimes either exposed or fall afoul of our own security agencies in the course of their work. Surjit Singh will enjoy minor celebrity for a while, perhaps sell his story, and then fade back into the obscurity he came from.
By contrast, 311 men whose names nobody has ever heard of outside their families also went back over the border after being released from jails in Karachi on Wednesday. All of these people, including 21 juveniles, had nothing to do with the dark arts of espionage. They were fishermen who had crossed the invisible line on the surface of the sea that is the border between our territorial waters and the territorial waters of India. They had no criminal intent; they were merely at sea making a living, feeding their families and going about their business. That their business would be better conducted with modern navigational aids is undisputed, but there seems to be little point in detaining fishermen once it is established that they are not spying. India holds many of our fishermen, detained in similar circumstances, and we must hope for some reciprocity from the Indian side and a release of our men in the near future. There is a perceptible thaw in our relations with India as the blowback from the Mumbai attack fades. Let us catch and lock up the likes of Surjit Singh, but perhaps we need a rethink on both sides on how we treat those fishermen unwary or unlucky enough to cross the invisible line.