Islamabad: What should have been the release of an Indian death row prisoner has turned into an "international embarrassment" for the Pakistan government following the mix-up over the identity of two Indian nationals currently in a Pakistani jail.
Hours after reports emerged yesterday that Pakistan was to release Sarabjit Singh, convicted and sentenced to death in 1990 for alleged involvement in a string of bombings, Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar clarified that authorities were taking steps to free another Indian named Surjeet Singh who was jailed for espionage.
The "case of mistaken identity turned what should have been a moving occasion into international embarrassment", The Express Tribune said in its front-page report.
The website of the Dawn newspaper described the development as a U-turn taken by the government in an "unusual way".
The Presidential spokesman attributed the mix-up to "confusion" and sought to distance President Asif Ali Zardari from the episode.
Babar said any references to the President in the matter were "out of context".
However, there was speculation in the social media, especially Twitter, on whether the government had been forced to backtrack on any possible move to free Sarabjit due to pressure from the powerful security establishment.
The Pakistan Army plays a key role in shaping foreign policy, especially relations with India and the US.
"It is unclear how the mix-up took place, whether it was official quarters whose information was mistaken or if the reporting by the media was the guilty party," said the report in The Express Tribune.
Pakistani TV news channels were the first to report yesterday afternoon that the President had commuted Sarabji’s death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to take steps to release him if he had completed his jail term.