Millennium Post

Pak govt-army conflict behind Sarabjit flip-flop

Pakistan's midnight U-turn on the release of Sarabjit Singh, suspected to have been done under pressure from its powerful military-Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) establishment, has not gone down well with India, even as New Delhi on Wednesday renewed its pitch for the death row prisoner's release and awaited clarity on the issue.

The family and friends of Sarabjit Singh, who were jubilant on Tuesday night when the news broke about Pakistan planning to release him, were 'disappointed and shattered' at the midnight twist of events, as Islamabad clarified that it was Surjeet Singh, another prisoner in Pakistani custody, who was being released.

Pakistan's U-turn on release of Sarabjit, a long-standing Indian request, has not gone down well with India and has cast a shadow over the talks between the foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani in New Delhi on 4-5 July.

'I have seen media reports about the impending release from imprisonment in Pakistan of Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the president of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh,' the external affairs minister S M Krishna told reporters on Wednesday.

Admitting confusion over the issue, Krishna said that he had also seen media reports and stressed that India was awaiting official communication from the Pakistan government and a report from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on this issue. He added, '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 who are serving jail sentences in Pakistani prisons for petty crimes.'

The home minister P Chidambaram said that it was difficult to figure out how and what happened.

The Bharatiya Janata Party asked the government to explain how Krishna could announce that Pakistan would release Sarabjit Singh but the name was later changed to Surjeet Singh.

The Pakistani media has termed the flip-flop as an 'international embarrassment' for the Pakistan government.


The fate of two Indians in Pakistani jails - Sarabjit Singh and Surjeet Singh - by the turn of events since Tuesday has made their families in Punjab go through jubilation as well as shock and despair.

Midnight calls from the media to the family of Surjeet Singh in Punjab's Ferozepur district set the family rejoicing after having waited for his return home for over 30 years.

But jubilation in the house of Sarabjit Singh, which started Tuesday evening after Pakistan announced the commuting of his death sentence and his release, came to an abrupt end and turned into shock and despair after the news came past midnight that, after all, Sarabjit was not being released by Pakistan.

For Sarabjit's family, the scene changed from one of jubilation to outrage and tears 'all within a span of six hours'.

The family said Wednesday they felt 'cheated' by the manner in which the Pakistan government did a flip-flop on the commutation of his death sentence and release.

The celebrations in Bhikhiwind, Sarabjit's native village, died down quickly as news came of the apparent volte face on the pardon and release of Sarabjit, currently on death row in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore after being convicted for terrorism.

Family members and friends, who had only hours earlier distributed sweets, were stunned into silence at the sudden turn of events.

Hours after first reports that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit, Islamabad late Tuesday clarified that not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh, who has been in jail for three long decades on spying charges, would be released.

'We are disappointed and shattered. But we will not give up hope on getting Sarabjit released. We will continue to fight for him. By doing this, Pakistan is playing with our sentiments,' Sarabjit's elder sister Dalbir Kaur said in Jalandhar.

Dalbir Kaur, who has been leading the campaign with authorities in Pakistan and India to seek her brother's release, said the turn of events was a 'cruel joke' on the family.

'I don't understand how this happened. But we will not give up our fight,' Dalbir Kaur, staying here with her relatives, said.

'We feel cheated. We appeal to the Pakistani and Indian governments to work out his release,' Sarabjit's daughter Poonam said in Bhikhiwind, located along the India-Pakistan border, 280 km from state capital Chandigarh.

Sarabjit's wife Sukhpreet also lives in the village.

The family claim that he had crossed into Pakistan inadvertently in August 1990 in an inebriated state and was arrested there.

But police in Pakistan say Sarabjit, who is known as Manjit Singh there, was involved in acts of terrorism. He was convicted of staging four bombings in Lahore and Multan in 1990 that killed at least 14 people.

While Sarabjit's family was left shocked, jubilations broke out in the home of fellow inmate Surjeet Singh, who will be freed after over three decades in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail.

In Phidde village in the frontier district of Ferozepur, 280 km from Chandigarh, Surjeet's family celebrated the news that he would be released soon.

Family members and other villagers could be seen doing bhangra to celebrate his release as music played in the background.

'We are all eagerly awaiting my father's release from Lahore jail. He completed his term years ago. Finally, he is being released. We will welcome him at Attari border with great fanfare,' Surjeet's son Kulwinder told media persons in his village Wednesday.

'Though we are very happy that my father is being released, we appeal to the Pakistan government to release Sarabjit Singh also,' Kulwinder said.


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday asked the government should explain how Foreign Minister S M Krishna announced that Pakistan would release death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh but later say it was Surjeet Singh who would be freed.

'When Krishna announced Sarabjit would be released, there was happiness all over India but things changed suddenly. The government must take people into confidence as to how could the minister make such a statement,' BJP leader Yashwant Sinha told reporters here.

'It is a big mistake in both the countries,' he said.

Charging Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardadri with often going back on his words, Sinha alleged that he did the same in the case of Sarabjit under pressure from some terrorist organisations.

'President Zardari changed his statement on sending the then ISI director to India after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. This time too, he seems to have done the same under pressure from some terrorist organisations,' said Sinha.

On 26 June, the Pakistani media had carried reports of Sarabjit Singh getting a presidential pardon.
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