So, we’re up in arms over Pakistan’s treatment of Sarabjit. The Indian ‘farmer’ on death row in Pakistan is in deep coma after being attacked by a group of prisoners while being “shifted to another barrack”. Pakistan High Commission has issued emergency visas to four members of Sarabjit’s family to travel to Lahore who met him after 16 years of yearning for a reunion. This, in view of the situation, may just have come in a little too late for Sarabjit’s wife and children.
And, concurrently, each nationalist Indian should ideally be supporting the cause of Sarabjit who, in a state of drunken stupor, crossed over to Pakistan on the night of August 28 1990 and was arrested by Pakistani border guards on the Indo-Pakistani border near Kasur. Indian supporters maintain the arrest was a case of “mistaken identity” and he was only a poor farmer who was drunk and had strayed off the border. So, besides the umbrage the nation has been inflicted from across the borders by China over a land issue, even a belligerent Sri Lanka over an ethnic issue, Pakistan’s treatment of an Indian farmer ‘wrongfully detained’ is seen as the last straw. Across social media even print, Indians have been rabidly vying to outdo each other’s patriotic harangue running down Pakistan.
Afzal Guru & Sarabjit
After Afzal Guru’s hanging, there has been a predictable discontent simmering among sections within Pakistan that felt wronged. Sarabjit’s attack is being perceived widely as a fall-out of Afzal’s hanging. Why, even he had spoken to his family of being threatened in prison and expressed fears of being attacked following Afzal Guru’s hanging. Apparently, Sarabjit’s family was fully in the know about threats of an imminent attack on Sarabjit which, they maintain, India and Pakistan hadn’t taken seriously.
Remember Kashmir Singh, who spent more than 35 years in Pakistani jails after being “kept in solitary confinement and chained for 17 long years” before being released and repatriated to India in 2008? Accused of espionage and smuggling, the charges couldn’t be proved against Kashmir Singh who had not seen the sky nor had a single visitor for “three and half decades,” since his arrest in 1973. It was only when caretaker Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney saw him “mentally unstable” that he “fought his case on humanitarian grounds.” The-then President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf had been shocked with the case and accepted Kashmir Singh’s mercy petition. Kashmir Singh was released in 2008 and entered India through Wagah border on one of those myriad Indo-Pak bonhomie-charged moments. However, soon after Kashmir Singh returned, he held a press conference where he confessed to being a spy who had done his “duty for India” but who hadn’t been “paid his dues” by the Indian government which had “only ignored his family’s needs” for the three and half decades he spent in Pakistan’s jails. He proudly announced that the Pakistani authorities “couldn’t get a word out of him” but claimed he had “lost faith in the Indian governments which had done nothing for his family”.
Kashmir Singh Accepts Being An Indian Spy
Now, that kind of one-upmanship didn’t augur well for any bilateral relations. In one clean sweep, Kashmir Singh rubbished India’s espionage mechanism while looking the national hero all the way. Worse still, is that he made Pakistan look like the gullible fool which “couldn’t get a word out of him” and instead let him off the hook falling for his “mentally unstable” demeanor. And, that hurt Indo-Pak relations in a way that would take years to mend. In a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt to gain political brownie points, Punjab’s Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal then announced a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 each to Kashmir Singh and his wife Paramjit Kaur. A house was to be constructed for them at Mahilpur town, close to Kashmir’s village on a plot owned by media adviser to Chief Minister Harcharan Bains. The CM also announced a government job for Shishpal Singh, the couple’s 40-year-old physically-challenged son.
Can you imagine the kind of brickbats Musharraf would have received for the Kashmir Singh release following his bare-it-all press conference in which he made Pakistan and Musharraf look supremely ridiculous? The kind of hatred that rabid groups both sides of the Indo-Pak border harbour is nothing short of being legendary. If the initiation of a Samjhauta Express and normal cricketing ties between the two bitter neighbours didn’t cut ice, the Kashmir Singh episode only wedged the gap between the two even deeper. It was a stark failure on the part of Indian diplomacy which could have done better than making Kashmir Singh’s true identity as a spy and emotional outbreak public, thereby compromising India-Pakistan’s relations adversely. India should have foreseen a Sarabjit imbroglio and more, then itself. Pakistan and India have been known to nab each other’s ‘straying fishermen’ for over years and then release them on key occasions to display camaraderie and one-upmanship by the powers-that-be. Prisoners in both nations too face a similar predicament. They’re plain pawns in the political quagmire between the two age-old foes. It isn’t important whether Sarabjit is a farmer or a spy. Each nation has its own understanding of a prisoner-in-question’s identity and motives for crossing over. While India will fight across social media and at streets about Sarabjit’s rights and her government’s impotence, Pakistan will be battling serious internal dissent over talk of Sarabjit’s release, particularly in view of Kashmir Singh’s misadventure.
India’s Appeal To Pakistan
India appealing to Pakistan to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view of Sarabjit Singh’s case and releasing him sounds so simplistic that it’s almost unbelievable. If Pakistan refuses to do that, it will win the confidence of a vitriolic section of its people but lose out on a huge opportunity to earn goodwill from India and the democratic world at large. If Pakistan chooses to release Sarabjit for treatment to India or elsewhere, it’ll be a win-win situation for all. After permitting consular visits to the family to meet a comatose Sarabjit, a ‘seemingly-sensitive’ Pakistan could earn the global goodwill it so badly needs. India, on her part, will conveniently take the credit for having “got her way”, within her borders. And, if in the process, Sarabjit survives, it’ll be collateral benefit!
Image Source : IANS