Minutes after the news of Sarabjit Singh’s impending release from a Pakistani jail hit the air waves, phones started buzzing between South Block in Delhi and the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
The announcement of Sarabjit’s released — convicted for his alleged involvement in a serial bomb blasts in Pakistan in 1990 — took the officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and the diplomats in the Islamabad High Commission by complete surprise. A senior MEA official said the mission had not been informed of the decision to commute Sarabjit’s death sentence to life term.
"We checked with our mission in Islamabad and they have told us that they heard the news from the media." The question the MEA is now asking is — why the haste in making the announcement?
The decision to set Sarabjit Singh free, after 22 years, was apparently taken by President Asif Ali Zardari and announced by his spokesperson, Farhatullah Babar. Babar told Hindustan Times on the phone from Islamabad, "The President had sought the opinion of the law ministry and they have now informed the interior ministry that he can be set free because he has already spent 22 years in jail."
Officials in the MEA are, however, questioning the timing of this 'magnanimous' announcement, coming as it does within a day of 26/11 handler Abu Jundal’s arrest. The decision was also announced on a day when India expressed the view that it expects Pakistan to do more in its fight against terror and in its investigation against the 26/11 accused and Hafiz Saeed in particular.
When asked about the curious timing, Babar told this paper, "I am telling you the legal position. Questioning the timing is a matter of speculation." According to Babar, it is only a matter of time before Sarabjit walks free. "The interior ministry now only has to inform the jail authorities," Babar said.
Pakistan appears to have shown haste in making the announcement and leaking the story to the media, even before formally informing the Indian High Commission, only adding to the speculation that it wanted to focus some attention away from the embarrassing arrest of Abu Jundal.
Jundal, believed to be one of the handlers of the 26/11 terrorists, who coordinated the Mumbai attacks from a control room based in Karachi can reveal damaging details of the role of state actors in the Pakistani establishment.