Delhi/Islamabad: Pakistan's midnight U-turn on
the release of Sarabjit Singh, suspected to have been done under
pressure from its powerful military-ISI establishment, has not
gone down well with India even as New Delhi Wednesday renewed its
pitch for the death row prisoner's release and awaited clarity on
Family members and friends of Sarabjit Singh, who were Tuesday
night jubilant 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 Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and his
Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani in New Delhi July 4-5.
"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," External Affairs
Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters here.
Sarabjit has been in Pakistan's custody for well over two decades
and faces a death sentence for his alleged complicity in a string
of blasts in the Punjab province cities of Lahore and Multan in
Krishna's statement came after Pakistan did an inexplicable volte
face about releasing Sarabjit Singh Tuesday night.
On June 26, the Pakistani media carried reports of Sarabjit
getting a presidential pardon. However, Islamabad clarified around
midnight that it was not Sarabjit but Surjeet Singh, his fellow
inmate at Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, who would be released.
Admitting confusion over the issue, Krishna said he has 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.
Krishna, however, renewed request to the Pakistan government to
take a lenient and humanitarian view and also release Sarabjit.
"As you are aware, the government of India has consistently urged
the government of Pakistan, on several occasions, to take a
sympathetic and humanitarian view in the case of Sarabjit Singh,"
"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," Krishna said.
Senior ministers also backed Krishna in requesting Sarabjit's
release on humanitarian grounds.
Pakistan should look at the case of the death row prisoner
Sarabjit Singh sensitively and compassionately, Information and
Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said in Thiruvananthapuram.
Pakistan claims that Sarabjit, who is known as Manjit Singh there,
was involved in staging four blasts in Lahore and Multan in 1990,
which claimed 14 lives. His family however, maintains that
Sarabjit, a resident of border town of Bhikhiwind, had strayed
across the border in an inebriated state in August 1990.
Surjeet, who has been in Pakistani custody for over 30 years, was
captured near the India-Pakistan border on charges of spying
during Zia-ul-Haq's tenure and was on the death row too, but his
sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989.
"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 spokesperson Farhatullah Babar was
quoted as saying by Geo News.
While the reasons for Pakistan's flip-flop are not clear, informed
sources pointed out that Pakistan's powerful military
establishment may have vetoed the government's decision.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram said 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 party's senior leader Yashwant Sinha accused the Pakistan
government of buckling under the pressure from some terrorist
The Pakistani media has termed the flip-flop as an "international
embarrassment" for the Pakistan government.