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‘If not India, send Sarabjit to third country’

Anita Joshua
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As an alternative to shifting death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh to India for treatment, New Delhi has now proposed transferring him to a hospital in a third country for proper medical treatment.

The alternative was proposed by Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal during a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani on Tuesday. As for Pakistan’s response to shifting him to India or a third country, Indian mission officials said there was “no significant development”.

While making the alternative proposal, India said this was not the time for invoking legal and bureaucratic reasons for not taking the right steps to save a human life. “We believe that every endeavour should be made to save his life,” according to a statement put out by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi about Mr. Sabharwal’s meeting with Mr. Jilani.

The alternative proposal was mooted after Pakistan maintained a studied silence over India’s appeal on Monday to shift Sarabjit to an Indian hospital for treatment. During their discussion, Mr. Sabharwal reiterated India’s appeal to immediately release Sarabjit on humanitarian and sympathetic grounds so that he could benefit from the best available treatment in India.

While the Foreign Office did not react to the appeal — at least in public — federal Information & Broadcasting Minister Arif Nizami had said hours before the appeal that Pakistan had no intention of shifting Sarabjit to a medical facility overseas as the “best possible care” was being given to him in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital.

For Pakistan, releasing a death row Indian prisoner — who has been held guilty for the 1990 bomb blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad which killed 14 people — could be a tight-rope walk as far as managing public opinion was concerned.

After India executed Afzal Guru for the 2001 Parliament House attack, demands for reciprocal hanging of Sarabjit had been stepped up by several right-wing organisations including the Jamat-ud-Da’wah (JuD). However, after Sarabjit was grievously injured in the attack on him by fellow prisoners at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail last Friday, the JuD has remained silent on the issue.

Meanwhile, Sarabjit’s condition remained unchanged amid local media reports that he had slipped into “non-reversible coma” and was heading to “brain death”. Reports since Monday, quoting unnamed hospital sources, that Sarabjit was brain dead, have been denied.

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