UAE strikes prisoner-swap deal with Pakistan

Year-long talks yield pact to allow Pakistanis jailed for minor offences only to serve out them terms in their home country.

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ABU DHABI // Pakistani and UAE officials have agreed to a prisoner-exchange treaty that could be signed as early as next week.

About 2,500 Pakistani prisoners held on immigration charges and for small crimes such as petty theft will serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home country, Pakistan's federal minister for interior Rehman Malik said yesterday. He would not say how many Emiratis would be released from Pakistan or what their crimes were. Officials at the UAE Ministry of Interior declined to comment.

The treaty was agreed upon at the Emirates Palace hotel yesterday by Mr Malik and the UAE Minister of Interior, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed. It will be signed once approved by Pakistan's cabinet. The two countries have been in negotiations for about a year, Mr Malik said. "It is the families, the mothers and the wives, who have been suffering because they can't come here to see their loved ones," he said.

It was not clear whether Pakistani prisoners being held for issuing bounced cheques or other financial crimes would be released. In India, work is being made towards implementing a treaty with the UAE so that prisoners sentenced for minor crimes can be transferred, but those do not include financial crimes. Mr Malik said he hoped to collaborate with the UAE to thwart crimes such as money laundering, and to establish a better system of extradition and deportation so criminals "don't think that they are sitting in a safe haven".

"We discussed how the flow of criminal information, e-mail and SMS, makes us a global village and both countries should work together," he said. In response to a question about the move by the UAE to ban some BlackBerry services because of security risks, he said Pakistan might consider something similar. "If a country sees something as detrimental, it has the right to ban it, and maybe we will follow the UAE's lead," he said.

Mr Malik expressed gratitude "for the cooperation and support given by the UAE, which has always been near to our hearts and which we consider a friend". He said that Pakistan was considering similar agreements with other countries.