Srinagar, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a rare and historic gesture, India and Pakistan exchanged 587 prisoners on Monday at the Wagah border crossing, 500 Km northwest of New Delhi, by the Indian state of Punjab.
Emotions ran high as family members crowded the border a waiting the return of their loved ones, some of who they had not seen for years.
Indian TV covered the prisoner exchange and broadcast footage of men kissing the ground and bursting into tears of joy as they set free by Indian and Pakistani officials as loud patriotic songs blared on either side of the border.
Radhay Shyam, from Jammu and Kashmir, who was returning home after seven years in a Pakistani jail, described the exchange as a major event in the history of bilateral relations but expressed concern about several others still languishing in prison and prayed for their early return.
The move follows a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two old foes on August 29 where they agreed to free innocent civilians held captive by both countries. Pakistan freed 435 Indians, including 371 fishermen with India releasing 152 Pakistanis the majority of whom are farmers and fishermen who accidentally crossed the poorly demarcated border.
This gesture comes ahead of a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmoham Singh and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, expected to focus on the long-running disagreement overt he divided region of Kashmir.
The event was tinged with sadness, as several families whose men were captured by Pakistan in the three wars it had fought with India did not find their loved ones amongst the released prisoners. Many held signs saying “Show your humanity and release prisoners of war”.