THE death of Sarabjit Singh on Thursday should be taken by Pakistan’s prison administrations as a wake-up call — they should be forced to review their treatment of prisoners who may be at risk because of the nature of their crime or their identity. Across the world, incidents occur of inmates attacking each other and therefore it is standard practice to provide convicts at risk with extra protection. Singh was an Indian national convicted of spying and of playing a role in the bombings that killed several people in 1990. Had the prison authorities been more vigilant, this sad incident could have been prevented. The same can be said of India, where a Pakistani prisoner, Sanaullah Haq, in Indian-held Kashmir was attacked by a fellow inmate and critically injured yesterday.
Singh was given a state funeral amidst the din of angry protests and a hawkish stance on part of the country’s media; the government in Indian Punjab declared a three-day period of state mourning and its assembly unanimously passed a resolution terming Singh “a national martyr”. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, referred to him in a statement as a “brave son of India”. So who was Sarabjit Singh and what was he doing in Pakistan? If he was merely someone who had crossed the border accidentally, as his family claims, why the state funeral? If, on the other hand, he was an agent of the Indian government, as Pakistani courts found him to be, why the decades-long silence in Indian diplomatic quarters over his incarceration here? Or was he merely a pawn in the spy-vs-spy game that many suspected characterised the hostile India-Pakistan relationship during the period he was arrested and sentenced? Given the anger being voiced across India over Singh’s death, and possible resentment here against the attack on Sanaullah Khan, it is necessary to remember those years and exercise restraint. The process of the normalising of ties must continue; hawkish attitudes yield few benefits while restraint and goodwill offer many.