His tragic life and gruesome end have evoked such charged emotions and so much anger against both the Indian government, which has seemed helpless and soft, and a Pakistani government that did nothing to save Sarabjit's life. In this atmosphere there have been calls for extreme measures. The evidence of this is the brutal assault on a Pakistani prisoner in Jammu's Kot Balwal jail who, like Sarabjit, has also been put on a ventilator. While it may be very difficult to be rational in these trying circumstances, it is important that India does not lose the moral high ground it occupies now after the death of Sarabjit.
There will be calls for lowering diplomatic engagement and banning people from the country, like musicians and cricketers among others. But New Delhi must be pragmatic. While making efforts, more consistent and strenuous than the ones made for Sarabjit, to secure the release of the nearly 220 Indian prisoners in Pakistan, the government must not give in to the jingoism from some quarters that want to teach Pakistan a lesson by shunning its people. There are extremists on all sides, but unless we continue with what is often termed engagement using soft power, a bad situation will only get worse. Most Indians have been revolted by the politics preached by outfits like the Shiv Sena, which have targeted cultural and sports personalities from across the border. But, India ought not to descend to such pettiness. We cannot expect reciprocity for our every move from Pakistan. It is a deeply troubled and isolated state. It is in the grips of fundamentalism and what even its own leaders now concede to be non-state actors. Cutting off cultural and other people-to-people contacts is not going to result in any tangible benefit.
This is not to suggest that the government does not keep up pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways and to abandon its policy of trying to bring India to its knees through the export of jihadis. This is a policy, as we have seen, which has cost Pakistan dearly with terror attacks in the country becoming an almost daily occurrence. The killing of the Pakistani prosecutor in the 26/11 case and the Benazir Bhutto murder case just after the Sarabjit murder shows the extent of chaos and violence in the country. It is not that there has not been condemnation in Pakistan over the death of Sarabjit. We have to equally condemn the attack on the Pakistani prisoner in Jammu. The government has to make every effort to see that Pakistani prisoners are not targeted in Indian jails. This tragic event underscores all the more the need to engage, at least in the areas of least contention, with a fractious neighbour one cannot wish away.