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Spy games: Secret swap talks

All indications suggest that Sarabjit is the public face of a deal between spymasters, writes Nandini R Iyer.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2006 03:46 IST

Here's a story that spymasters in New Delhi and Islamabad will deny.

All indications seem to suggest that Sarabjit Singh — the Indian arrested in Pakistan in 1990 and handed a death sentence for his alleged role in bomb blasts in three cities there —is the public face of a deal that the spymasters have been engaged in for the past 15 months.

Sources say the deal involves a swap between Sarabjit and possibly Mohammed Arif alias Ashfaque (the Pak national accused in the 2000 Red Fort attack case). After the exchange, the two would be tried in their home countries.

Officially, nobody is willing to confirm the proposed swap. This, despite media reports (quickly denied) that Sarabjit was to be exchanged in return for the release of terrorists being held in India.

Unofficially, sources confirm that tentative ‘conversations’ are indeed taking place. Sources say it could take another 15 months for the deal to work out—assuming, of course, the ‘conversations’ don’t collapse before that.

There is no shortage of stumbling blocks. Pardoning a death-row convict—or at least agreeing to have him swapped for trial in his own country — could be considered tantamount to admitting to an error on the part of the arresting agencies.

Also, a section of influential officials want the exchange to be perceived as ‘equal’. While Sarabjit is accused of blasts, Ashfaque is an accused in the Red Fort case which evokes much sentiment in India since the fort is a national monument.

The sources say the crucial issue is to hammer out a deal where neither side loses face.