The release of an Indian imprisoned in Pakistan, Surjeet Singh, initially caused a very adverse reaction because it was thought, because of the confusion caused by the similar names, that Sarabjit Singh was being released. Both had received sentences of death, but Surjeet’s had been converted into a life sentence in 1988 by the President, on the advice of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who had converted many death sentences to life imprisonment, Surjeet Singh had been sentenced after being arrested in 1982 and tried for espionage. On the other hand, Sarabjit was convicted of carrying out bomb blasts in 1990, which killed 14 people in Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. His death sentence still stands, but was not executed in 2008, when then Prime Minister Gilani intervened. He remains under sentence of death, and the outcry by the heirs of his victims at the reports of his release are a pressure on the state to execute him.
While Pakistan must be careful about making sure that all prisoners, not just Indians, do not serve out sentences any longer than they have been given, they should also consider why the sentence of Sarabjit Sing has not been executed. This would simply be a case of providing justice to the victims’ survivors. The process of justice must be the same in Pakistan for all prisoners, irrespective of nationality, and if India uses Pakistani prisoners for achieving the ends of the government, Pakistan must not follow suit. It must not fall prey to the temptation to play politics in dealing with criminals.