Sarabjit's murder will certainly add bitterness in relations and serve as a setback to efforts to promote people-to-people ties between the two countries, says Sushant Sareen
In the end, Sarabjit Singh was executed not by a hangman but by Pakistan’s famed ‘non-State’ actors -- his fellow prisoners on death row -- who are believed to have been put up to the job of bludgeoning him into a lifeless pulp by ‘State’ actors (jail officials). Of course, instead of someone pulling the hangman’s lever, in Sarabjit’s case it was the proverbial plug being pulled on the life support machines by ‘State’ doctors. Regardless of what spin is put on his death by the Pakistani authorities, it is quite clear that it was a political decision taken by them to put a closure to the entire drama surrounding Sarabjit.
The entire Sarabjit saga is a tale of clinical solutions being used by Pakistani authorities against him: his arrest -- he was a convenient scapegoat for the Pakistani security forces who needed someone to blame for a series of bomb blasts; his conviction -- all evidence proving that he was not the person responsible was disregarded, and fake and tutored witnesses were produced (some of whom later retracted their testimony) to procure a guilty verdict and have him sentenced him to death; his murder -- get already condemned prisoners to beat him to death (their punishment can’t get any worse but they will be able to earn ‘sawab’ or rewards in the after-life for having killed a despicable infidel) and pre-empt any possible reprieve or release for him, in addition to getting even with the ‘hated Hindus’ for executing two soldiers of Islam (Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru) and sending a strong signal to Infidel India; and finally his execution -- carried out by doctors who switched off his life support systems because it was too expensive to keep him alive indefinitely and it was not politically possible to send him to India.
Even after Sarabjit was reduced into a vegetable as a result of the brutal beating he was subjected to, the Pakistani bloodlust wasn’t satisfied. It was almost as though the only thing that would satisfy the Talibanised Pakistani mindset was stringing Sarabjit’s comatose body on the gallows! Having committed the terrible wrong of outsourcing his execution to ‘non-State’ actors, the Pakistanis could still have done the right thing by sending a lifeless but still alive Sarabjit back to his country and his family.
For anyone to argue that the interim government in Pakistan was not empowered to take a decision on releasing even a comatose Sarabjit is complete nonsense. If it wanted, the caretaker government was fully competent to have advised the president to grant him clemency him and repatriate him to India on humanitarian grounds. That it chose not to, suggests that it is either scared of a right-wing reaction or else subscribe to the extremist mindset.
Having blown this opportunity, the Pakistanis should be prepared for a blowback of hostility, if not from an effete Indian government then at least from an incensed public opinion in India. The murder of Sarabjit will certainly add bitterness in relations and serve as a setback to efforts to promote people-to-people ties between the two countries. Perhaps, this is exactly what those who conspired to murder Sarabjit were aiming for. But to say that Indian people should not play into the hands of enemies of peace by giving in to their emotions over the brutal killing of Sarabjit is to miss the point.
If indeed peace is such a desirable objective and is in the interest of peoples of both countries, then is the onus for peace only on India? Doesn’t Pakistan also have a responsibility to rein in these enemies of peace? Didn’t Pakistan understand the sensitivities attached to Sarabjit’s case and how any untoward incident could embitter an already tenuous state of relations? And if it did, why didn’t they take precautions of the type India took with Ajmal Kasab to safeguard Sarabjit from any assault?
Or is it that they didn’t care a whit for the sentiments and emotions of Indians? If so, then what is this people-to-people relation that is being promoted and incessantly parroted by apologists for Pakistan? Isn’t it therefore time that we re-evaluate the state of relations and re-examine the assumptions that are guiding India’s policy on Pakistan?
Of course, if we want to prove Einstein’s definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time -- correct, then we are on the right track. Otherwise, there needs to be a new approach adopted towards Pakistan, one that sheds the shibboleths of the past.
Image: Jinnar Hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, where Sarabjit (inset) breathed his last following an assault on him by Pakistani prisoners
Sushant Sareen is senior fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, and consultant, Pakistan Project, IDSA