Sarabjit Singh-Sanaullah Ranjay episode

Asif Haroon raja

had been planted by RAW and sent to Pakistan to spy and carryout acts of terrorism.  He had killed many innocent Pakistanis by planting bombs. He was arrested on April 28, 1990 near Kasur by border guard while he was trying to escape to India via Ganda Singhwala. He was tried in Anti-Terrorist Court on charges of planting andSarabjit Singh Is A Martyr exploding five bombs in Lahore and Faisalabad and killing 14 people and injuring many. He confessed to his crimes and stated that he worked for RAW. He was awarded death sentence in 1991 and was waiting for his turn to be hanged after his four petitions had been rejected by the Supreme Court. His hanging was repeatedly postponed. He then moved a mercy petition to President Zardari. Latter was inclined to set aside his death sentence but emotional protests launched by families of 14 victims of Sarabjit demanding his immediate hanging restrained him. Had he been hanged in time, the ugly situation could have been avoided.

India exerted pressure for the release of Sarabjit Singh as well as another death row prisoner Surjeet Singh involved in espionage. Human Rights Chairman Ansar Burney campaigned hard for the release of Surjeet. PPP government buckled under Indian pressure and released Surjeet in May 2012. He was given a warm send off by our officials led by Ansar Burney. In India he was given a rousing welcome. Throughout his 30 years long imprisonment, Surjeet had pleaded that he was not guilty, but on his arrival in India while talking to media he proudly admitted that he was an Indian spy sent by RAW to Pakistan for espionage.

Like Surjeet Singh, Sarabjit also kept pleading not guilty. On April 27, 2013, convicted Sarabjit Singh was critically injured by his two prison companions who were also on death row. They probably apprehended that like Surjeet, he too might not be released. Another possible reason for the attack on Sarabjit could be in reaction to hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri, who had been wrongfully implicated in terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001. Sarabjit was promptly shifted to Jinnah Hospital Lahore and given full medical attention. Pak government facilitated arrival of his kin the very next day of the incident. Despite best medical care, the doctors could not bring him out of coma. Our media gave full coverage to the incident till he succumbed to injuries on the night of 1/2 May and his body shifted to India on 2 May in a special plane sent by India.

Indian officials expressed their usual angst and Indian media hyped the issue out of context and Indian public bayed for blood of Pakistan. Pakistan bound Pak-India Dosti bus was mobbed by the angry crowd in Amritsar. This has been the standard pattern of India. Convicted Sarabjit was declared a national hero and buried with honor. It was announced that his next of kin will be given award money. The incident added strains to the already tense Indo-Pak relations.

No sooner his last rites were completed on 2 May, a similar incident occurred in Kot Bhalwal jail in Jammu where an ex Indian Army soldier Vinod Kumar undergoing life imprisonment on account of murdering his colleague hit 54 years old Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah Ranjay on 3 May. It was obviously a tit-for-tat response. Vinod hit him on his head repeatedly exactly the way Sarabjit Singh had been hit by his prison mates in Kot Lakhpat jail to ensure he doesn’t recover from his injuries. Vinod has been remanded for seven days in police custody for further investigations but this ritual is for the consumption of the world. I am sure he must be receiving heaps of praises for his heroics and feasted.

sanaullah-prisonerSanaullah after being savagely assaulted with brick and metal rod on his head was shifted to Chandigarh hospital with multiple injuries where he was put on life-support in intensive care. He had been arrested on charges of terror acts in 1999 and awarded life sentence. He had completed his jail sentence in Kot Bhalwal jail in 2006 but was held back. On May 5, Indian doctors pronounced Sanaullah brain dead. His relatives were allowed to meet him in the hospital on 8 May. They were aghast to see him in near dead condition after 18 years of separation. Sanaullah stared at them with blank looks but couldn’t move or utter a word.

Requests made by Pakistan and pleadings of his visiting relatives for his evacuation on humanitarian grounds fell on deaf ears on the plea that his fragile condition prohibited movement. He eventually breathed his last on May 9, and his body was flown to Sialkot from Chandigarh by PIA thus ending the hate-filled reactive episode. The saddest part was that Sanaullah had not been released after completing his jail term in 2006.  Pakistan conveyed its deep concern over the unfortunate incident and demanded full-fledged inquiry and punishment to the murderer.

India has as a policy has treated Pakistani prisoners very cruelly. It prefers to clandestinely murder prisoners suspected of involved in spying or terrorism. Those who are hanged to death after the ruling of kangaroo courts or die under mysterious circumstances, their bodies are not returned. 27 years old terror suspect Qateel Siddique from Pakistan was found murdered inside Yerawada jail in Pune on June 8, 2012. He was allegedly strangled by two of his inmates. Instead of handing over his body to Pakistan, he was secretly buried in the middle of the night inside the jail compound as in the case of two Kashmiri leaders Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt. Ajmal Kasab implicated in Mumbai attacks in November 2008 was awarded death sentence by a kangaroo court in Mumbai without conclusive evidence. It was a one-sided trial since Pakistani lawyers were not allowed to meet him. He too was secretly hanged on November 26, 2012 within the premises of the jail and buried.

It was strange that Indian media and officials declared RAW agent and convicted Sarabjit Singh involved in spying and in several acts of terror a hero and gave him state burial. This was done to give heart to other spies who had got scared after finding that Indian authorities had failed to get him released and died a horrible death. One may ask India’s saner elements as to how they differentiate between a terrorist and a hero? Hasn’t India made a mockery of the much publicized and dramatized terrorism? If Sarabjit is a hero, how come Hafiz Saeed allegedly involved in Mumbai attacks is declared as a terrorist by India?

Sarabjit went through the whole length of judicial process and was given ample chance to prove his innocence. After establishing that he was an Indian agent and involved in acts of terror about which he confessed, only then he was convicted and awarded death sentence. In case of Hafiz Saeed, the law courts exonerated him for want of evidence and India failed to provide requisite evidence since Mumbai drama had been cooked up with devious intentions. More so, Sarabjit could not be equated with Sanaullah, who had completed his jail term.

India media helped by Pakistani media manages to portray itself as a victim and Pakistan as the aggressor. Since 2005, Indian TV channel ‘Star TV’ ran a focused campaign to get Sarabjit released. His family members were repeatedly brought on the TV and they all portrayed him as innocent and made passionate appeals to release him on humanitarian grounds. Sarabjit having confessed his crime also started parroting the same that he was not guilty. Our media remained shy of calling him a terrorist and instead called him a spy. Our media joined Indian media in criticizing Pak government for not providing adequate security to him and for not sending him to India after he was injured. The two are now tightlipped when India failed in providing security to Sanaullah particularly after the tempers in India had gone high and for not shifting him to Pakistan.

As against cruel treatment of India against Pakistani prisoners, Indian prisoners held in Pakistan jails have been by and large treated humanely. The last government released over 100 Indian prisoners during its five-year tenure and all the released prisoners went happy loaded with gifts. India on the other hand reciprocated by sending dead bodies of Pakistani prisoners. Those who came back alive were not in normal condition. Some had lost their memory; some their speaking power, while others had been crippled for life. Out of 270 Pakistani prisoners, 47 have completed their sentences but are still languishing in Indian jails under horrid conditions. Seeing the ugly mood of Indian public and premeditated fatal assault on Sanaullah, lives of other prisoners are in great danger. Pakistan has demanded immediate release of 47 prisoners and full protection to all Pakistani visitors to India.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

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