NEW DELHI: Renewing the appeal to free Sarabjit Singh who's been languishing in Pakistani jail since 1990, Indian authorities said it is still awaiting a clear picture on the circumstances surrounding Pakistan's flip-flop in this regard.
On, June 26, 2012, according to Pakistani and Indian media President Asif Ali Zardari commuted to life the death sentence, converting his death sentence to life imprisonment. However, barely six hours after Sarabjit was 'pardoned', Pakistani authorities said that there was some confusion in this regard and it wasn't Sarabjit, but another prisoner - Surjeet Singh - who was to be released.
Sarabjit's family and India called this about turn a cruel joke.
"We have always taken up the unfortunate case of Sarabjit Singh, who has spent 22 years in prison. This is a good time for the government of Pakistan to take a lenient, humanitarian view. I can very well understand the agony his family must have gone through. I also appeal to the government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed their prison terms," external affairs minister SM Krishna said.
The "mix-up" over Sarabjit Singh and Surjit Singh follows a recent pattern in India-Pakistan engagement, where a failed state with a barely functioning government in Islamabad is unable to take even routine decisions.
Pakistan's flip-flop over the release of Indian prisoners who have served out their terms is the fourth such mysterious change of mind within one month by rulers in Pakistan on dealings with India which could have taken their bilateral relations forward.
The curious case of Sarabjit Singh
Sarabjit, a resident of Tarn Taran in Punjab, had crossed the border into Pakistan in an inebriated state. He had also been claiming that he was not Manjeet Singh. The FIR had named one Manjeet Singh, not Sarabjit. He was arrested at Kasur border on August 30, 1990.
But Pakistan has accused Sarabjit of engineering blasts that killed 14 persons in Lahore and Multan in 1990, has spent nearly 22 years in prison and was awarded death sentence.
Sarabjit's death sentence was stayed by the then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on April 1, 2008.
In about six hours, Pakistan did a volte-face and said that instead of releasing Sarabjit Singh, another Indian named Surjeet Singh, in Pakistani custody for three decades, would be released.
"I think there is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the advice of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto," presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar was quoted as saying by Geo News.
The dramatic developments came a day after India made public the arrest of a 26/11 suspect who was hiding in Saudi Arabia and who was said to have communicated to the Mumbai attackers from a "control room in Karachi".
Sheikh is also handling Surjeet's case in Lahore High Court. "Both cases are different. Surjeet completed his sentence in 2004 and was in illegal confinement since then. The court took cognisance of my arguments and sought a reply from the Pakistan government on July 9. Sarabjit's case is that of mistaken identity," Sheikh said.
While the government claims it was an identity "mix-up", Pakistani journalists said the military had a role in the last minute decision. Interior minister Rehman Malik, however, refutes the charge.
"It was Surjeet, not Sarabjit. Check the jail records. It is absurd to think this was done on army pressure."
However, mediapersons think otherwise. "We know who is Surjeet, and who is Sarabjit," said Lahore reporter Waqas Ahmad. Another journalist noted that Surjeet's release was announced two months ago. "Why would they make the same announcement again?" he asked.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan government still speaks of Sarabjit in a hopeful tone. "We are looking at the case from a humanitarian view. We know his mother is old... if the law permits, we will do something," he said.
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