No hope for Sarabjit Singh

Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s fate still hangs in balance as there seems to be no hope for him. With every passing day, the man is surely inching closer to gallows and his execution now looks imminent.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s fate still hangs in balance as there seems to be no hope for him. With every passing day, the man is surely inching closer to gallows and his execution now looks imminent.
The Pakistan Supreme Court’s dismissal of his review petition, challenging the death sentence given to him for his alleged involvement in bomb attacks in 1990, has closed all legal options for him and thus all hopes of his release are fast fading.

The chances are less likely that Pakistan authorities will now succumb to New Delhi’s pressure and reconsider their decision to hang Sarabjit Singh.

The development is surely a setback for Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney, who campaigned hard to highlight Sarabjit Singh’s case and pleaded that the Pakistan establishment view the case from a humanitarian angle.

Months of media trumpeting of the issue and the emotional appeals made by Sarabjit’s family especially his sister Daljeet Kaur, who visited her brother in Kot Lakhpat jail in Pakistan, bore no fruits.

The issue has been raised at several fora by Human Rights organisations and his family has lobbied hard seeking New Delhi’s urgent intervention in the case.

Owing to media-generated public outcry over the issue, the Indian government has in the past used official channels to put pressure on Pakistan to revert its decision to show clemency to Sarabjit Singh.

At regular intervals, New Delhi has conveyed the strong sentiments of Indians to Islamabad and hoped for some leniency from the Pakistan side over the issue.

But all effort seems to have been wasted as the political developments in the two countries have changed a lot and the bilateral ties between the two nuclear states are at their lowest level.

After the deadly terrorist strikes in Mumbai last year, the Indian government has cut off all dialogue with Islamabad and asked it to fulfil its commitment to stem terrorism first before coming to the negotiating table.

The stand taken by the Indian government is appropriate considering the proven involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in the ghastly attacks, which claimed the lives of nearly 183 people of different nationalities.

The standoff between the two countries is posing a serious threat to peace and tranquillity in the Indian subcontinent. Besides, Pakistan’s continued support to militant outfits and separatist forces in J&K, no action against the key LeT and JuD figures and recent rise in cross border infiltration has further worsened the situation.

And recently, the easy acquittal of Jamat-ud-Dawah chief and mastermind of the Mumbai carnage Hafiz Saeed by the Pakistani High Court, came as a major jolt for the Indian government, which now doubts Pakistan’s credibility to act against terror.

In the backdrop of the hostile environment, which is further pushing the two sides away from holding peace parleys, New Delhi has limited options in Sarabjit Singh’s case.

The government can only make an appeal on humanitarian grounds since Sarabjit Singh has been convicted after a lengthy trial.

The two sides have locked horns on several issues and if the Indian government presses hard on the matter pertaining to Sarabjit, it might give Pakistan a chance to bargain a deal for releasing hardcore Pakistani prisoners languishing in Indian jails.

So the ball clearly lies in Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s court, who constitutionally, has the power to pardon or remit his sentence.

But, President Zardari has so far failed to take any decision amidst fears that granting pardon to him would aggravate problems for his government on the domestic front.

In view of the resurgence of PML-N and its top leader Nawaz Sharif and reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a weakened Pakistan President will not like to harm his reputation in his country.

Zardari is fully aware that if he grants amnesty to Sarabjit Singh, then he will have to face the anger and frustration of the Pakistani Awam, amid allegations of succumbing to New Delhi’s pressure.

Further, if the government repeals Sarabjit’s death sentence, the extremists elements will take advantage of the situation, get validity and public sanction for their militant activities.

And if it goes ahead with the execution of Sarabjit Singh, the country risks annoying New Delhi, which has time and again reprimanded it for lack of co-operation to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai attack to justice.

So the best bet for President Zardari would be to delay the execution for the time being.

One more interesting thing, which needs to be mentioned here is the role played by Sarabjit’s lawyer Rana Abdul Hamid, whose non-pursuance of the case led to the dismissal of Sarabjit’s mercy petition.

Hamid, who has admitted lapse on his part and pledged to approach the authorities again to save his client’s life, might have shied away from attending the court proceedings under pressure from terrorist groups.

Whatever one says, the news has come as a bolt from the blue for Sarabjit’s family, which has been praying for his safe return. The family is braving all odds and has still not lost hope that Sarabjit will be back with them one day.

It also remains to be seen whether India is willing to go that extra mile and ask Pakistan through diplomatic channels for a rethink on the matter. No one knows whether Sarabjit is really guilty, no one is sure whether he is actually an Indian spy, but his case surely depicts the deplorable condition of hundreds of ordinary prisoners who are languishing in jails on both sides and awaiting a final verdict on their fate.