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HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014

Did radicals force Pakistan to keep Sarabjit in jail?

PTI  Islamabad, June 27, 2012
First Published: 16:32 IST(27/6/2012) | Last Updated: 17:22 IST(27/6/2012)

Was it a U-turn under pressure from fundamentalist forces or was it a mix-up of identities?


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These questions remained unanswered on Wednesday, a day after it was widely reported both in Pakistan and India that death row convict Sarabjit Singh, who has been in Pakistani jail for the last 22 years was being released after President Asif Ali Zardari had commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.

The news played big on both Pakistan and Indian TV channels last night which debated the topic threadbare.

Indian TV channels spoke to Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar and he confirmed to them that Sarabjit was being released.

Then there was a bombshell around midnight with Babar saying it was not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh, who was being released.

Before this sudden about-turn, the news that Sarabjit, convicted for alleged involvement in series of bombings in Pakistan in 1990 despite his protestations of innocence, was being released was greeted with anger by fundamentalist parties.

The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) condemned the move to free Sarabjit.

JI chief Syed Munawar Hasan said that Mumbai terror attacker Ajmal Kasab had been sentenced by India without any evidence and Pakistan had not provided him legal aid.

The JuD, the front organisation for terror outfit LeT tweeted, "Not a single demand for #Samjhota Terrorists & innocent Pakistanis in Ind Jails, instead convicted terrorist #sirabjit allowd to live #shame".

Hamid Mir, one of the country's most popular anchors, even described Sarabjit as "India's Ajmal Kasab".

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.

"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 Tribune.

Pakistani TV news channels were the first to report yesterday afternoon that the President had commuted Sarabjit's death sentence to life imprisonment and directed authorities to take steps to release him if he had completed his jail term.

By this morning, most Pakistani TV news channels had stopped reporting on the mix-up over Sarabjit.

A few channels like Geo News featured External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's appeal to free Sarabjit and all other Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails while others had reports on the dejection among Sarabjit's relatives in India.

At least three newspapers missed the flip-flop over the Indian prisoners and even carried reports on their front pages that said Sarabjit was to be freed on the President's orders.


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