Sarabjit death to hit Indo-Pak ties

Ghastly act: Cremation today with state honours in native village

Sarabjit death to hit Indo-Pak ties

As Sarabjit Singh was brought home dead at the end of his 23-year-long ordeal across the border, an ‘anguished’ India on Thursday said that the brutal killing of its “brave son” would hurt its relations with Pakistan and demanded that his assailants must be brought to book.

“He was a brave son of India who bore his tribulations with valiant fortitude. The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as he led the nation in mourning Sarabjit Singh, who has been on death row in Pakistan since 1991 for allegedly being involved in a series of bomb blasts that killed 14 people at Lahore and Multan in 1990.

New Delhi slammed Islamabad not only for ignoring its repeated calls over the past eight years for releasing and repatriating Sarabjit on humanitarian grounds, but also for not responding to its appeal to shift him to India after he was critically injured in an assault by other prisoners inside the Kot Lakhpat jail at Lahore in Pakistan on April 26 last.

“It is particularly regrettable that the Government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas of the Government of India, Sarabjit's family and of civil society in India and Pakistan to take a humanitarian view of this case,” said the prime minister. Parliament, too, expressed shock and sorrow over the demise of Sarabjit, with both Houses adopting resolutions condemning the inhuman treatment meted out to him inside the jail in Pakistan.

New Delhi also pointed out that the “terrible tragedy” would hurt the India-Pakistan ties. “It is a terrible psychological and emotional setback to all of us and I believe to what we have been trying to do in terms of creating greater cohesion between the people of India and people of Pakistan,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told journalists.

After Sarabjit, who was battling for his life in a hospital in Pakistan, was declared dead around 1:30 am (IST) on Thursday, New Delhi requested Islamabad to repatriate his mortal remains to India. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Jilani twice. After the Pakistan government agreed, New Delhi sent a special Air India plane to Lahore late in the afternoon and it returned to Amritsar with his body late in the evening.

Separately, another aircraft having on board Sarabjit’s wife, their two daughters and his sister flew to Amritsar.

And from there, the family was taken to their village in a chopper to their ancestral village Bhikhiwind in Punjab. The MHA had dispatched two director-level officers to assist the family so that there are no hiccups in Sarabjit’s last journey.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde tried to deflect criticism that the New Delhi did not put enough diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to bring Sarabjit for medical treatment here. "We have tried our level best. We tried at the prime minister's level, the External Affairs Ministry tried and I also personally took up his case with Pakistan's interior minister. But unfortunately we could not succeed," he said.

Two diplomats of the High Commission of India in Islamabad have been in Lahore since Saturday and in touch with doctors in the Jinnah Hospital, where Sarabjit was admitted.

Pakistani authorities handed over the body to the Indian diplomats after an autopsy was performed by a medical board. Samples from the body were sent for forensic tests and the final report on the autopsy is expected to be submitted in two week.
Earlier, the Pakistan government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited “cardiac arrest” as the cause of the Sarabjit’s death early on Thursday. It issued a statement claiming that Sarabjit was injured “during a scuffle with fellow inmates” and he was “being provided the best treatment available and the medical staff at Jinnah Hospital had been working round the clock” to save his life.

The Pakistani authorities on Thursday also slapped murder charges against two prisoners, Amer Aftab alias Amer Tambewala and Mudassar, who had attacked Sarabjit inside the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore and ordered a judicial probe.

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