Callous U-turn

Callous U-turn

There is more to it than meets the eye in the apparent ‘mix-up’ by the Pakistani government in announcing the release of a jailed Indian Sarabjit Singh, then clarifying a few hours later that it was Surjeet not Sarabjit who was going to be freed.

The ‘mistake’ has caused deep anguish to Sarabjit’s family, who in anticipation of his freedom had begun celebrating. Their happiness was extinguished a few hours later. Understandably, while India is celebrating the return of Surjeet to his family, home and country after 30 years in Lahore jail, there is deep outrage across the country over the callous U-turn that the Pakistan government made with regard to Sarabjit’s fate.

The two men were in the same jail and shared a surname. Yet the blunder is inexcusable. It is more likely that the confusion over the names was not the outcome of a blunder but a decision forced on the government by Pakistan’s military, the ISI and extremist groups. It lays bare yet again the feeble writ of Pakistan’s elected leaders. A call from Rawalpindi, where the military headquarters is situated, or Muridke, where leaders of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa live, and Pakistan’s leaders scurry to overturn decisions.

This is not the first time that decisions aimed at deepening India-Pakistan engagement have been made, only to be unmade within hours. Late last year, for instance, Pakistan announced the granting of MFN status to India. It denied this a few hours later. Over the past month, several such flip-flops have occurred. An understanding on a liberalised visa regime that was reached during president Zardari’s visit to India was followed up with a draft agreement providing for group tourism visas.

Home secretary R K Singh went to Pakistan to sign the pre-negotiated agreement but returned empty handed. Clearly, forces in Pakistan that are opposed to improvement in bilateral relations are at work. It is in the context of the string of flip-flops by Pakistan’s government that many Indians find it difficult to accept that the U-turn on Sarabjit’s release was a genuine mistake.

Hundreds of Indians and Pakistanis are languishing in each other’s jails, many of whom simply strayed into each other’s countries. These are helpless victims of bilateral politics.  Both governments must cast aside their small-mindedness in dealing with these prisoners and adopt a more humane approach. These prisoners deserve to walk free.

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