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'How could we get back Sarabjit from a bunch of barbarians?'

By Sheela Bhatt
May 02, 2013 16:33 IST
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A senior government officer, who was dealing with Pakistan on sensitive and strategic issues, tells Sheela Bhatt that Pakistan never wanted Sarabit Singh to return to India and share all that he knew. He says the the killing of the Indian convict in a Lahore jail was a planned murder.

“How could have India got back Sarabjit Singh from a bunch of barbarians?” was the response of a senior government officer when asked why India could not do enough to bring back the injured Indian convict who died early on Thursday after being attacked by fellow inmates in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail last Friday.

The senior officer, in an exclusive but off the record interview to, shared India’s frustration with Pakistan. The senior officer is part of the team dealing with Pakistan on highly strategic issues. The government’s version is that Sarabjit’s case was difficult from the beginning because Pakistan didn’t want him to share all that he knew. They never wanted India or his relatives to get access to Sarabjit.

The officer says, “They are guilty. They murdered him. But what can we do? Can we send troops?”  

He said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been paying special attention Sarabjit’s repatriation since 2005 and had even talked to then President General Pervez Musharraf, personally, about the case.

He said, “We Indians must understand that Pakistan is a dysfunctional state. Right now it has a caretaker government only because it is in election-mode. We did talk to them but there is nobody in charge.”

When asked why the Indian government believes that Sarabjit was murdered, the officer said, “We are told that two inmates did hear the guards of the jail saying that ‘Sarabjit deserves to be beaten up. Let them beat him.’ We consider it a case of murder.”

The officer further argued, “See, the jail is a controlled area. How can you beat a jail inmate like this? This is a planned crime. This is done by barbarians.”

When asked if the Indian government worked at the highest level to get back Sarabjit in last few days or if someone talked to President Asif Ali Zardari, the officer said, “Zardari’s writ is limited now because he is demitting office by September.”

He also said that Sarabjit was killed in Lahore, Punjab, where a caretaker government is headed by journalist Nazam Sethi. Zaradari belongs to the PPP whose influence in Punjab is limited and Nawaz Sharief’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is ruling.  

When further pressed on what efforts were made by the government to bring back Sarabjit all these years, the officer gave a reality check. He said, “These are not easy issues. The state can’t do everything. On issues like this we can’t send the army or bomb them. You know how many years American took to release their diplomats in Iran. (52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days in 1979). Afghanistan President Mohmmad  Najibullah took refuge in the UN compound in Kabul for four years when negotiations were on with the Taliban.”

Giving examples of some more difficult diplomatic tasks, he said, “Recently, Chinese dissident (Chen Guangcheng) remained in the US embassy in Beijing for six days till the safe passage for him was negotiated. There are any numbers of examples where such negotiations have taken a long time. We are aware of the case of Raymond Davis (former US army officer working for contractor of CIA arrested in Pakistan for murdering two locals) .Such cases may or may not succeed.”

The officer kept repeating that Pakistan is a dysfunctional state and there is limit to the extent that India could have negotiated with it on the issue of Sarabjit’s release.  

When asked what was Pakistan’s response at the highest level after Sarabjit was attacked the Indian officer said, “Frankly speaking it was a pathetic reaction. They denied any responsibility. They consider it as incident of barbarism inside the jail like it happened in Tihar jail in New Delhi recently where the prime accused of the Delhi gang-rape case were beaten up by inmates.”

When asked what kind of impact it will have on bilateral relations, he said, “Can it get any worse?”

Again when asked by ifthey had some channels open inside Pakistan to use when such issues come up because after Sarabjit’s injury Indian emotions were running so high, the officer replied, “On one side the Indian media keeps telling don’t talk to Pakistan, be strict etc and now you are saying why didn’t you talk? Why don't you have any channel open?”

The officer gave the sharp reply when asked why the government of India failed to get back Sarabjit after he was seriously injured.

“Why will Pakistan send the injured Sarabjit and let him die on Indian soil? Why take a chance that he will speak the truth as he has seen in Pakistan?  They never wanted Sarabjit to share with us his life in Pakistan.”

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi