The news about the release of Sarabjit Singh from a Pakistani jail was a most welcome development till a denial came in the media a little later − and it was one Surjeet Singh who was released. Sarabjit Singh was arrested 20 years ago for some blast in Lahore. He was so young at that time that he could not have been involved in the blast. He has been in jail for 22 years now, and compassionate grounds are reason enough for Pakistan to release him.
In India we formed a ‘Free Sarabjit Singh’ Committee under the Chairmanship of Justice Katju, of which even I am a member. We have made an appeal to the Pakistan government, including President Zardari. A senior journalist in Pakistan, Ansar Burney, has been taking up the cause from Sarabjit’s side, with great vigour. It is very unfortunate that some hawks in the Pakistani media say that he is responsible for the blast and should not be released.
We appeal to the Pakistan government that all such cases should be seen not just in the light of the judgements that have been passed, but in the light of what is reasonable and rational, and on grounds of compassion. Sarabjit has spent 22 years in jail, and it is high time that he should be re-united with his family in India.
Sarabjit has spent 22 years in jail, and it is high time that he should be re-united with his family in India.
I happened to meet Sarabjit’s sister in Delhi, but the situation is so pathetic that we all feel helpless. A new start has been made to improve Indo-Pak relations with the hope that on both sides of the border ‘Doves’ will prevail over the ‘Hawks’. But the latest news has saddened me intensely. I feel President Zardari should take this matter in his own hands and take steps that will bring India and Pakistan closer. Similar was the case of Dr. Chishti, who was imprisoned in the Ajmer jail. He was 80 years of age. The civil society and appeals from other quarters helped in his release by the Indian government, and he has been sent back to Pakistan.
I feel there are a lot of such cases on both side of the border. These cases should be reviewed and we should exchange prisoners expeditiously. Shockingly, there are a large number of prisoners of the 1971 war who are missing in Pakistan. They were supposedly held as POWs in Pakistani jails. General Pervez Musharraf had said that the army cannot locate many POWs. But that is not possible because the army records are perfect − if the Pakistani army had captured POWs, the Geneva Convention says that they have to be treated in a particular manner.
The Pakistan government should identify these prisoners and release them on the basis of the Geneva Convention. I think it is high time that President Zardari personally looks into this matter and takes appropriate steps. n