Islamabad: A day after its volte-face on the release of Sarabjit Singh, Pakistan on Wednesday went on a damage control mode saying there was no move to free the Indian prisoner and denied that there was any pressure from army on the issue.
The matter had not even been discussed within the civilian government, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said when asked at a news conference whether authorities had been pressured by the army to drop any plan to free Sarabjit.
"We have not even pardoned him (Sarabjit) as yet... Don`t involve the army in everything. The army`s role is very important and will remain so. The army never interfered. He was never freed," Malik said.
He further said the government is yet to take any step to pardon Sarabjit, 49, who was convicted and sentenced to death for alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks that killed 14 people in Punjab in 1990.
Hours after reports emerged yesterday that Pakistan was to free Sarabjit Singh, Presidential spokesman Faratullah Babar said it was not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh, who has been jailed for three decades.
Malik said authorities were examining Sarabjit`s case.
"If we are satisfied, then we will send it to the Law Division to examine," he said.
Media reports had said that the Pakistan government had made a U-turn on Sarabjit`s release following pressure from fundamentalist groups like JuD and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Noting that External Affairs Minister SM Krishna had
called for Sarabjit`s release, Malik said he had received 250 email and SMS messages that urged him to free the Indian national.
"Sarabjit`s relatives and an Indian Bar Association have also taken up this issue with me. We have to examine it legally on our side and I assure the Indian authorities that we will look into it sympathetically. If the law permits, we`ll definitely look into it," he added.
Malik contended that the current level of coordination between the military and the civil administration had never been witnessed in the past.
"The Prime Minister was dismissed and there was no government for three days. If anyone wanted to take over, they had an excuse," he said, referring to former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani`s dismissal by the Supreme Court last week.
He also said Pakistan wants "friendship with India on equal terms". "Whatever we do, we will never compromise the interests of Pakistan. Whatever the engagement or dialogue with India, we will always ensure that the interests of Pakistan (are protected) because the interests of Pakistan are supreme for us", he said.
Even the Pakistan media wondered about sudden turn of events with Dawn describing the development as a U-turn taken by the government in an "unusual way".
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.
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.