The death of the Pakistani detainee Sanaullah Haq after a brutal attack in a Jammu prison was a matter of national shame. One of the most memorable sayings of the founding father of India was that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” The attack by an Indian prisoner seems to have been triggered by the death of Sarabjit Singh, the Indian prisoner who died earlier from a parallel attack in a Pakistani jail. It goes without saying that there is no excuse for the death of Haq, who had absolutely no connection to Singh’s death or imprisonment.
Even those whose enmity towards Pakistan has led them to harden their hearts to Haq’s fate should understand how damaging this is to India’s own interests. New Delhi has invested hugely over the years in making the argument that India and Pakistan should not be treated on par — and Islamabad has fought long and hard to hyphenate the two countries. If today India is seen as a possible great power, attracts billions in foreign investment and its citizens can reasonably expect to travel the world without much hindrance it is because the country has shown it does not act, behave and see itself as Pakistan. When the Indian government cannot enforce its own strictures that all Pakistani prisoners should be safeguarded against attack, it undermines all this effort to be the South Asia success story, the subcontinent’s normal nation.
Unfortunately, too many will dismiss the deaths of both men as one of circumstance — two more victims of the bilateral danse macabre that continues to control the actions of South Asia’s two largest nations. This is a dangerous attitude as it assumes that such deaths are inevitable and acceptable as long as there is no peace settlement. This is a symptom of a lack of political focus on the concerns of normal people in the midst of a geopolitical struggle. India should seek to resuscitate an existing but ignored understanding between the two countries to release prisoners who have finished their sentences. And it should seek other bilateral means to safeguard such innocents. India should prosecute not merely Haq’s killer but also the jail staff who were clearly guilty of negligence. This is both a moral and a political requirement for our country.