India on Wednesday urged Pakistan to take a lenient view and release death row convict Sarabjit Singh, whose release was mistakenly announced on Tuesday and corrected later by Islamabad.
“We have always taken up the unfortunate case of Sarabjit Singh, who has spent 20 years in prison. This is a good time for the government of Pakistan to take a lenient, a humanitarian view. I can very well understand the agony his family must have gone through. I also appeal to the government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed their prison terms,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told journalists.
While diplomats were stoic after reports filtered in from Pakistan on Tuesday evening about its plans to release Sarabjit Singh, Mr. Krishna immediately welcomed the decision with his office not bothering to get a confirmation from the Indian mission in Islamabad.
Officials of the External Affairs Ministry said the move to pardon Sarabjit (it later turned out to be another long-time prisoner Surjeet Singh) was one of the “oldest tricks in a media manager’s book,” in a reference to the attempt by Pakistan to offset the embarrassment caused by Saudi Arabia’s deportation to India of Zabiuddin Ansari, suspected of being involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Mr. Krishna covered his tracks on Wednesday with a more careful statement.
On Wednesday, while thanking President Asif Ali Zardari on the basis of “reports about the impending release” of Surjeet Singh, Mr. Krishna, in a statement, renewed his request for release of Sarabjit Singh.
“I welcome this decision and further renew our request to the President of Pakistan to release Sarabjit Singh, who has been in custody for well over two decades and is serving a death sentence. As you are aware, the Government of India has consistently urged the government of Pakistan, on several occasions, to take a sympathetic and humanitarian view in the case of Sarabjit Singh. I also appeal to the government of Pakistan to release all Indian nationals who have completed their prison terms and request the release of all other Indians who are serving jail sentences in Pakistani prisons for petty crimes,” he said in a prepared statement.