Islamabad: Pakistan’s powerful spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is believed to be behind Islamabad’s dramatic U-turn on Sarabjit’s Singh’s release within few hours after it emerged late Tuesday that the Indian prisoner languishing in its jail for the past 30 years will be released soon.
The Pakistan’s last-minute ‘rollback’ of the decision to release Sarabjit Singh is also in line with the larger story of Pakistani politics- of the tussle between the civilian government and its powerful military and the excessive political influence of the extremist Islamist groups operating on its soil.
Shortly after the Pakistan’s media first announced that President Asif Ali Zardari had converted Sarabjit Singh`s death sentence to life imprisonment and ordered authorities to release him if he had completed his prison term, the Islamists groups and the ISI began building pressure on the civilian government to revert the decision.
It is now being reported that the representatives of Islamist groups in Pakistan expressed their strong displeasure that Sarabjit Singh, who they claimed had carried out acts of terror in Pakistan and had killed Pakistani citizens, was being released.
The growing public anger and the enormous pressure build by the religious outfits backed by the ISI compelled to civilian establishment in Pakistan to issue a clarification that instead of releasing Sarabjit Singh another Indian named Surjeet Singh, also in Pakistani custody for three decades, would be released.
"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 spokesman Farhatullah Babar was quoted as saying by Pakistan media.
The "rollback" manifestly bears the stamp of a veto by the Pakistani Army-ISI of the civilian government`s effort to respond to appeals from New Delhi for Sarabjit Singh`s release.
In view of Pakistan government`s recent clashes with the judiciary, which in an extraordinary bout of activism had unseated Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Zardari regime evidently backed down.
Pakistan’s faux pas has come as a major blow not only to Sarabjit Singh`s family but the entire nation which was elated over the news that he will be finally released. They had begun celebrating his release when the news came in of Pakistan`s blunder. Sarabjit`s sister, who has been leading the fight for his release, says they are disappointed but are still holding on to hope.
A little over a month ago, ailing Pakistani virologist Khalil Chishti, detained in Rajasthan for nearly two decades on the charge of involvement in a murder, was freed on the orders of India`s Supreme Court so that he could meet his family in Karachi. It was being seen that by relasing Sarabjit Singh Pakistan was just reciprocating the goodwill gesture shown by the New Delhi and the Islamabad was moving a step forward in strengthening the bilateral ties.
However Pakistan’s rollback of its earlier announcement on Sarabjit Singh is now being seen here as a divisionary tactics and likely to give a blow to recent efforts taken by the two sides to further boost ties.
As New Delhi has renewed its request to the Pakistan government for releasing Sarabjit Singh, political analysts are raising serious questions over the diplomatic blunder committed by Pakistan on the whole issue.
There are several unanswered questions as to why the Pakistan government spokesperson Farhatullah Babar first claimed on Pakistan television that it was Sarabjit Singh who will be released?
Why did the Pakistan government took 5 long hours to issue a clarification that not Sarabjit Singh but Surjeet Singh will be released and why has Islamabad still not issued an official statement on this?