New Delhi: There was a cruel twist of fate for Indian prisoner in Pakistan Sarabjit Singh and his family. Hours after announcing that he would be released, Islamabad has confirmed that it's not him, but another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh who is being sent home.
However, the big question is whether the faux pas by Pakistan is really a genuine mistake or a mischief. Surjeet had already served his life sentence and was due for release. He didn't need Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's signature on his release order.
But the announcement came from Zardari's spokesperson. The clarification came over five hours after Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar confirmed that Sarabjit was to be released, sparking celebrations at his Jalandhar home.
"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 premier) Benazir Bhutto," Farhatullah Babar said. Any references to President Asif Ali Zardari in the entire matter were "out of context", the presidential spokesman said.
Reacting to the faux pas, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna renewed India's request for Sarabjit's release. "I won't speculate on what happened last evening in Pakistan. We renew the request to Pakistan to release Sarabjit," Krishna said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan blunder brought joy to Surjeet's family, but left Sarabjit's family in a shock. "I am really shocked by this. But I have faith in the Pakistan government. It is not possible that Zardari and Pakistan government will play with our emotions. I strongly believe that Sarabjit will be freed soon. I am happy that Surjeet Singh is freed and I am happy for his family," Sarabjit's sister said.
"The faux pas has played with our emotions. But I still hope that my father will be released soon," Sarabjit's daughter said.
Sarabjit's lawyer Awais Sheikh said, "This is an irresponsible statement from Farhatullah Babar on behalf of the Pakistan government." Incidentally, Sarabjit lawyer also happens to be Surjeet's lawyer.
On the other hand, Surjeet's family was celebrating. "We are extremely happy. We got to know about this from journalists. He (Sarabjit) should also be released. We were really sad, but now we are happy," Surjeet's family said.
Sarabjit has been in jail for the past 22 years after he was convicted in the 1990 serial blasts case. Zardari had commuted his death sentence to life and is considering Sarabjit's fifth mercy plea that was sent last month.
Surjeet Singh, who is to be released, has been languishing in the same Pakistani prison as Sarabjit for three decades. Officials now say that Pakistan's Law Minister told the Interior Minister to release him as he has completed his life term.
The blunder raises some big questions:
- Why did the Pakistan government spokesperson first claim on Pakistan television that it was Sarabjit Singh who will be released?
- What took 5 hours for the Pakistan government to deny this on Pakistan television?
- Why has the Pakistan government still not issued an official statement on this?
(With additional information from PTI)