India on Thursday firmly ruled out release of any Pakistani prisoner in exchange for Sarabjit Singh whose execution has been deferred by one month amid indications that it has been left to the incoming government to decide on his fate.
"We have appealed to the Pakistani government and we hope that Pakistan will listen to our appeal. Nobody will be released in exchange," Minister of State for Home Sriprakahsh Jaiswal said in Delhi when asked if there is any move for swapping prisoners.
Jaiswal however said if any Pakistani prisoner can be "lawfully" set free then it will be done. Sources in the Pakistani administration said in Islamabad the authorities concerned with Sarabjit's case had decided that it would be best for the issue to be "put on hold" till the new government is formed by the Pakistan People's Party and its allies.
A statement issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad meanwhile said, "The reprieve now allows time for the appeals for clemency to be given proper consideration from all angles, including by the new government expected to take office in Pakistan soon."
The statement said, "The government of India continues to hope that Sarabjit Singh will be granted clemency on humanitarian grounds."
Well known Pakistani Human Rights actvist Asma Jahangir also lent weight to the campaign to save the life of Sarabjit saying he should be granted clemency. "I appeal that Sarabjit's life be spared," she said in Delhi.
The High Commission statement hoped that Sarabjit, who is on death row for alleged involvement in terrorist attacks, would be granted clemency on humanitarian grounds after President Pervez Musharraf on Wednesday deferred the hanging scheduled for April 1, by a month.
The statement said the Indian government was "pleased to learn that Sarabjit Singh's execution has been stayed". "The news was received with appreciation in the Indian Parliament on Wednesday. Sarabjit Singh's family has also expressed its gratitude for all the support received for Sarabjit's cause," it said.
While favouring clemency for Sarabjit, Asma Jahangir slammed both Islamabad and New Delhi for "playing politics" over the lives of prisoners.
"India and Pakistan should not play politics with the prisoners' lives. Their lives should be spared," Jahangir said on the sidelines of a conference in Delhi.
"I appeal that Sarabjit's life be spared. He should be sent back to his own country even if it is after serving a life term," said Jahangir, who is also chairperson of Pakistan National Human Rights Commission.
Swapandeep Kaur, the daughter of Sarabjit Singh, said in Chandigarh it appeared that Pakistan has softened its stand on her father.
"It is an indication from the Pakistan side that it has soften its stand on our father," she told reporters. Satisfied over the Pakistan government's decision, Kaur said, "We (the family) have applied for our visas and if they allow us to visit Pakistan, we will produce evidence on his innocence".
Asked whether she would prefer government handing over some terrorists to Pakistan in return of their father's release, she said, "It is a policy matter of the government and the Centre has to decide on such issues."