When it comes to reciprocity, there is no equal to the kind practised by India and Pakistan with each other. No wonder, because it requires a special talent to mirror hostility in such a perfectly choreographed manner. The attack on prisoner Sanaullah Haq in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail that sent him into a coma and led to his eventual death from multi-organ failure was part of the endless tit-for-tat that the two countries end up playing with each other. That it was a fellow prisoner who assaulted him in retaliation for the killing of Sarabjit in Pakistan by inmates does not exonerate Indian officialdom. In fact, it is unforgivable that even after there was an alert across jails to ensure no revenge attacks on Pakistani prisoners, the Jammu attack could not be prevented. The jail superintendent and other officials have rightly been suspended, and an inquiry has been ordered.
Even so, the incident has exposed India as a country that still has to grow up, and that despite its eagerness to pretend otherwise, suffers from some of the same dysfunctionalities as its western neighbour.
In keeping with the pattern, Pakistan gave a state funeral to Sanaullah, a Harkat-ul-Ansar militant convicted and sentenced to life for two bomb blasts in Kashmir, to match the one given Sarabjit, convicted for bomb blasts that killed 14 people in Pakistan.
None of this reciprocal madness gives much hope for the future of India-Pakistan relations.
Until now, tit-for-tat hostility was practised only by officials on both sides, sometimes targeting each other’s diplomats for surveillance, attacks or expulsion, at other times targeting ordinary people, as for instance by denying them visas or harassing them in other ways.
What is worrying about the Sanaullah incident is that people-to-people relations are also on their way to getting tainted in the same way, and officials are allowing this to happen. A section of khadims at the Ajmer dargah said they would not permit Pakistani pilgrims to attend the urs. Shockingly, New Delhi also recommended to Pakistan that the pilgrimage be called off as after the Sarabjit incident, it could not ensure the security of travellers from across the border. Going by this, next it will be the turn of the Sikh jathas who go on pilgrimages to gurudwaras in Pakistan to face a similar situation. Before it comes to that, the cycle of nastiness has to be broken.
Telling Pakistani pilgrims that they are welcome to come to Ajmer would be a good place to begin. And there’s no need to demand reciprocity.
Convicted Indian spy Sarabjit Singh suffered severe injuries in the head when some suspects attacked him when he left his barracks for strolling in Kot Lakhpat jail on April 26, 2013. Singh was admitted to the ICU of the Jinnah Hospital where a medical board comprising senior neurosurgeons was treating him. He later died.
The suspects attacked Singh when he left his barracks for strolling. They assaulted him with bricks and other blunt weapons and left him seriously injured. The reason behind the incident could not be immediately ascertained.
Profusely bleeding, Singh was initially moved to the surgical emergency of the Jinnah Hospital.
Sarabjit was received with several deep head injuries and he was unconscious. He was wearing a police trouser and casual shirt when shifted to the emergency. Keeping in view the deteriorating condition of the patient an endotracheal tube had been placed into the trachea (windpipe) to help him breathe artificially. After initial treatment in the emergency unit, Singh had been shifted to the main ICU and put on ventilator.
In September 2012, Singh had written a letter to his sister and daughters, alleging that the jail authorities were slow-poisoning and mentally torturing him.
Quoting the prosecution, the official said Singh had illegally crossed into Pakistan on Aug 29, 1990. He was arrested on charges of carrying out four bombings in Faisalabad, Multan and Lahore and was later sentenced to death.
Preneet Kaur, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, has said that “it is deplorable that this attack took place. The Indian High Commission has sought consular access. As soon as we get a response, we will act”. Two officials from the Indian embassy have rushed to Lahore from Islamabad. Pakistan Foreign Office in a statement said it would investigate the incident.
Sarabjit’s sister Dalbir Kaur has said: “I had told everybody he is not safe. This is a conspiracy. The attack was pre-planned.”
The Kot Lakhpat jail currently has some 17,000 prisoners though its official capacity is only 4,000. There have been instances in the past of prisoners being killed within the prison.
Authorities had tightened Singh’s security after the recent execution in India of Afzal Guru, who was convicted of involvement in the 2001 terror attack on the parliament.
Singh’s mercy petitions were rejected by courts and former President Pervez Musharraf. The outgoing PPP-led government put off Singh’s execution for an indefinite period in 2008.
Just a few months back, an Indian prisoner died in mysterious circumstances at the same Kot Lakhpat prison. He was allegedly inhumanely beaten to death for committing the ‘crime’ of washing his clothes at a public tap at the courtyard of the jail. India alleges that the jail authorities did not request the hospital authorities to conduct an autopsy for almost two months. Even after the autopsy the report has still not been presented.
The Lahore High Court refused to entertain a petition for the inquiry into the mysterious death of the prisoner on the pathetic argument that the lawyer did not have power of attorney from the victim’s family (who are in India). This is contradictory to the fact that the higher courts take so moto actions on political cases without obtaining ‘power of attorney’ to gain popularity in the media.
He was represented by Mr. Awais Shiekh who acted on behalf of the victim, following reports published in the Daily Express Tribune.
Chamail Singh, son of Salaar Singh, (48), a resident of Targwal Khalkay village, Akhnoor tehsil, in Jammu, India, was imprisoned on spying charges after a military trial sentenced him in June 2012. At the time of his death he was nearing the end of his sentence of five years due to time served. Singh was tried by a military court in Sialkot, Punjab, under section 59 of the Pakistan Army Act 1951 for spying and imprisoned.
Mr. Tehseen Khan, a lawyer by profession, who was released just three days after Chamail Singh’s death, told the Express Tribune, on 18 January that he witnessed Singh’s killing. He said that that at 7:45am on 15 January Singh was washing his clothes at a tap in the jail’s courtyard when Assistant Superintendent of Jail (ASJ) Nasir Nawaz with two chakar imdadis or hawaldars, Muhammad Sidique and Muhammad Nawaz, stopped him.
The ASJ asked him “does he think the jail is his home where he can wash his clothes wherever he wants?” The officials also taunted him saying how an Indian spy enjoys himself after working against Pakistan. The agents should not have such facilities. They also used some filthy and derogatory words against Indians, Khan told the newspaper.
When Singh responded, the hawaldars started beating him on the orders of the ASJ. The ASJ himself allegedly pounded Singh with his fists. Kicks by the others drew blood from Singh’s upper lip and brow. The newspapers quoted Tehseen as saying that the three men continued to beat him for a full minute, at the end of which he was dead. The jailors then dispatched Singh’s body to the jail hospital.
In desperation to hide their crime, the jail authorities took affidavits on plain paper from eight prisoners, all Indian nationals, that his death was natural. This was done in the absence of a magistrate which is a legal requirement. According to Express Tribune (ET) the affidavits state that Singh lit a cigarette after washing his clothes and died of natural causes. Later on his body was shifted to Jinnah Hospital where it was kept for almost two months in the morgue. No autopsy was conducted and the Punjab provincial government tried to cover up the whole incident.
The autopsy of the body was finally conducted on 13 March two months after his death but the report has not yet surfaced despite the fact that it was announced that report will come out on or before 25 March. The Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) and other agencies have confirmed that Singh was tortured to death. The newspaper received the initial report from the hospital that “traces of four injuries were found on Singh’s body including a fracture in the right knee joint, an abrasion on his upper lip and injuries on his thigh.
By delaying Singh’s post-mortem report, the Kot Lakhpat prison authorities tried to hide the marks of injuries on his body caused by the beating, advocate Awais Sheikh, who works as a counsel for Indian prisoners in Pakistan, told ET.
After publication of the news in ET, the same lawyer filed a petition in the High Court of Lahore for an inquiry into the death of an Indian prisoner by torture. The High Court immediately turned downed the petition on the grounds that the lawyer does not have power of attorney from Singh’s family. This was a clear effort by the High Court to save the provincial rulers from any embracement due to the case. The provincial government of Sharif has also not taken any action to probe the incident although ET has been continuously publishing follow ups of the incident since 28 January.