Indo-Pak: Animosity Prison-ified

08 May, 2013    ·   3920

Shujaat Bukhari highlights the damage in relations between India and Pakistan vis-a-vis the attack on Sarabjit Singh

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

The killing of Sarabjit Singh at the hands of his fellow inmates at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail and a murderous assault on Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail are two horrifying incidents which unravel the level of animosity with which India and Pakistan had been living for the last 65 years now.

Without going into the details of the case in which Sarabjit was convicted for death punishment, attack on him was unjustified and uncalled for though leading newspaper Hindustan Times revealed that he was a RAW agent and had been caught while fleeing after he executed the plan given by his handlers.

This also exposed the sense of complacency with which the Pakistani authorities had been “protecting” this highly vulnerable prisoner so has been the Indian government which should have been extra cautious in ensuring safety of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails after Sarabjit was attacked. In Sarabjit’s case there were reports in the past too about his scuffle with fellow inmates, but the way he was hurt and then succumbed to his injuries, the attack could not be the outcome of just a scuffle or a verbal duel. Both these incidents have brought to fore the dangerous aspect of battered relations between the two countries and unfortunately like the skirmishes on borders, here too, two poor fellows, who were used as pawns by respective intelligence agencies have been used as cannon fodder.

By allowing the inmates to go to the extent of taking his life, the Pakistani government has surely faulted on this very sensitive issue. There should have been extra caution in ensuring that a prisoner such as Sarabjit, who was on a death row, was fully protected from the host of prisoners who come from different backgrounds and varied ideologies. This was more important as in February the Government of India (GoI) had sent Kashmiri prisoner Afzal Guru to gallows in Tihar jail and the development had evoked strong reaction from within Kashmir as also in Pakistan.

Though not corroborated, many analysts suggested that the attack on Sarabjit could be in retaliation to Afzal’s hanging. Notwithstanding the fact that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government had passed off a resolution in National Assembly on its last day in office condemning Afzal’s hanging and demanding return of his mortal remains, the governments do not ought to function in such a way. However, the possibility of extremists, whose writ runs large in Pakistan, orchestrating such a step cannot be ruled out. But a detailed inquiry, the one judicial inquiry ordered by Punjab’s caretaker government should bring out the facts.

Since Pakistan is all set to go for election on May 11 and a new government would be in office in next few weeks, the impartial inquiry must be taken to its logical conclusion to satisfy the angry Indians. Suspending the jail officials should not be the only recourse to justice but severe punishment is must for those who took this extreme step and the collaborators also should not go scot-free.

For the reason that Sarabjit’s killing has raised the tempers in India and he even has been given the title of “martyr” by Punjab government, it is imperative for Islamabad that it takes steps to fulfill the obligations. It is a different issue whether the GoI and the media should have taken the case too far in the sense to wage a virtual war over Pakistan. Since Sarabjit was convicted ostensibly for a bomb attack in Lahore in which many lives were lost, it makes a strong case that both India and Pakistan see through such incidents purely on humanitarian basis. Humanity cannot be confined to one territorial jurisdiction and it is alike in every country.

While the saner elements in Pakistan were also shocked over Sarabjit’s death, the pitch of reaction in India had already been raised by the media to the highest level. This unfortunately culminated in a similar attack on Sanaullah, a Pakistani prisoner who had been lodged in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Jail for over 17 years. Sanaullah fell victim to the outrage of an ex-Indian Army soldier who attacked him with a pin axe. He continues to battle for his life in PGI Chandigarh and the chances of his survival are minimal. So it was virtual “eye for eye” which exposed the chinks in the system on this side and put India at the same pedestal as of Pakistan. As Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote goes: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind”, but in India and Pakistan, such words of wisdom go unheard in the din of rhetoric and jingoism.

Animosity and mistrust between the two countries has consumed the desire of living peacefully and not accepting the faults at the right time has further widened the gulf thus pushing people on both sides into danger. The reaction to attack on Sanaullah did not match with the outrage shown over the one on Sarabjit. The government did move swiftly in shifting him and expressing concern over the incident but the way Indian media and civil society reacted, it did not raise the hopes of a healthy atmosphere where an attack on a prisoner even if he was from an “enemy country” could be dealt through the prism of humanity.

In over six decades of war on all sides India and Pakistan have lost much but have not realized the importance of co-existence as neighbours. At least with the issue of prisoners, a fool-proof mechanism should have been in place. Questions are always being raised over the trials being conducted in the respective “enemy” countries and the level of mistrust has reached a crescendo. There needs to be regular review about the cases of prisoners in both the countries. Particularly with Jammu and Kashmir there are many Pakistanis who have completed their terms in jails and they need to be handed over back to them.

Likewise, there must be a number of prisoners, especially fishermen in Pakistani jails, who should be sent back to India in order to remove the threat of reoccurrence of attacks like that on Sarabjit and Sanaullah. But the question again tosses back to resolving the larger issues between India and Pakistan and Kashmir tops the agenda. Unless both New Delhi and Islamabad move forward on finding an amicable solution to chronic problems, the shadow of uncertainty and mistrust will continue to loom as a larger threat on the prospects of peace and reconciliation in the region. But the best way for them is to strengthen Confidence Building Measures on all issues including those related to prisoners as a stepping-stone to touch the contentious and intricate issues like Kashmir.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir