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Did Pakistan Army, radicals veto Sarabjit’s release?
India renews appeal for his release; hails decision on Surjeet
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 27
Even as New Delhi awaits a factual report from its mission in Islamabad over Pakistan taking a U-turn on releasing death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh, intense speculation is on in diplomatic and media circles over the role played by the powerful Pakistan Army and fundamentalists in the midnight drama.

Senior officials said the volte-face by Pakistan clearly reflected that there were multiple centres of power working at cross purposes in the neighbouring country. “How can you first announce Sarabjit’s name and later clarify that it is actually Surjeet Singh who is being released?,” an official said.

According to security analyst Alok Bansal, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari would certainly find it very difficult to pardon Sarabjit at this point of time, much as he would wish to, since he was besieged from all sides. “Zardari may be by far the most pro-India person in the Pakistani establishment, but the issue (of Sarabjit’s release) required deft handling,'' he said.

Bansal said he had no doubt that the Pakistan Army and the ISI were firmly against pardoning Sarabjit since he was charged with acts of terror. Also, there were many writ petitions pending in Pakistani courts against releasing Sarabjit.

The sense in New Delhi is that the civilian government, in its anxiety to create a positive environment ahead of Foreign Secretary-level talks in early July, did indeed decide to grant presidential pardon to Sarabjit. The spokesperson for the Pakistan President went on TV channels to make the announcement, which was seen here as a balancing act by Pakistan in the wake of the arrest of Abu Jundal, a key plotter of the Mumbai carnage.

However, the Pakistan Government was forced to reverse its decision as the move to release Sarabjit is learnt to have evoked an adverse reaction not only from the Army and the jihadi forces, but also from a section of the media.

This had also happened in the case of the proposed visa agreement between the two countries. Pakistan had initially agreed to sign the accord at the Home Secretary-level talks in Islamabad last month but went back on its commitment at the last minute. The accord is still awaiting signatures of the two countries.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna smiled when asked by journalists this morning as to how Pakistan could confuse Sarabjit’s name with that of Surjeet, another Indian inmate at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail.

“We are waiting for a report about what really happened from our mission in Pakistan. We are also awaiting an official confirmation from Pakistan since we have not been told who is being released and when.”

Surjeet has been in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years. He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the advice of then premier Benazir Bhutto.

Krishna also issued a statement saying New Delhi had seen media reports about the impending release of Surjeet Singh. “I welcome the decision and further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh,” he said.

He pointed out that India had consistently urged Pakistan on several occasions to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view in Sarabjit’s case. “I also appeal to the Government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed their prison terms and request the release of all other Indians serving jail sentences in Pakistani prisons for petty crimes,” he said.

Why the U-turn

  • The sense in New Delhi is that the Pakistan civilian government, in a bid to create a positive environment ahead of Foreign Secretary talks in early July, decided to grant presidential pardon to Sarabjit
  • The Pakistan President's spokesperson made the announcement on TV, which was seen here as a balancing act by Pakistan after the arrest of 26/11 handler Abu Jundal
  • The move to release Sarabjit is learnt to have evoked an adverse reaction from the Army, jihadi forces and a section of the media, forcing the government to reverse its decision

311 indian fishermen freed

KARACHI: Pakistan on Wednesday released 311 Indian fishermen from a prison here as a "goodwill gesture" and put them on their way to the Wagah land crossing to be reunited with their families. The fishermen, who were arrested for violating territorial waters, headed from Karachi's Landhi Jail to Lahore, and would be sent to India by bus. "By releasing the fishermen, Pakistan intended on maintaining friendly ties with India. We hope India will soon release Pakistani fishermen as well," said Sindh Minister for Law and Prisons Ayaz Soomro. — PTI





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