Pakistan on Tuesday night cleared the "confusion" about Sarabjit Singh, saying the Indian prisoner was not being released. Another Indian called Surjeet Singh was being released after completing his prison term.
But who created the confusion? "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 prime minister Benazir Bhutto," said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar on Tuesday night.
Babar made the clarification after Pakistani TV channels started reporting that President Asif Ali Zardari had commuted Sarabjit's death sentence to life imprisonment and had directed authorities to release him if he had completed his jail term. The Indian media picked up the story from there. But the Pakistani government had not made any statement on releasing Sarabjit.
Babbar, while speaking spoke to CNN-IBN, said Sarabjit had completed his prison term and he would most possibly be released next week. Later, when the media in both countries started reporting about him, Babar made his clarification. Law Minister Farooq Naek conveyed to the Interior Ministry that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term in jail and ought to be released and sent back to India, said Babar. "Keeping him in jail any longer will be illegal confinement," he said.
Babar's clarification doesn't clear up who started the rumour that Sarabjit is being released. That's why perhaps Dawn, Pakistan's leading English daily, called the clarification "an unusual u-turn".
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, who had on Tuesday thanked Zardari, this morning welcomed Pakistan's decision to release Surjeet and made a fresh request for the release of Sarabjit.
"I have seen media reports about the impending release from imprisonment in Pakistan of Surejeet Singh. I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh who has been in custody for over two decades. He is serving a death sentence," said Krishna.
Surjeet, who is being held in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, has been in Pakistani captivity for over 30 years. He was captured near the border with India on charges of spying during the era of military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. PTI reports Sarabjit, 49, who too is being held at Kot Lakhpat, was sentenced to death for his alleged involvement in a string of blasts in Punjab province in 1990.