Sarabjit Singh was accused of planning and executing a string of bomb attacks in Pakistan's Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990.
He had been battling for his life after he was brutally assaulted a week ago by six of his co-prisoners. He had severe head injuries and slipped into an irreversible coma.
As he lay critically ill in a Lahore hospital, his family – sister, wife and two daughters – visited him. The sister made fervent pleas to the Indian government to have him shifted to an Indian hospital.
Sarabjit Singh was accused of planning and executing a string of bomb attacks in Pakistan’s Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
But Sarabjit Singh’s family refused to believe that he was guilty of the crime, and had all along contended that he had strayed across the border into Pakistan in an inebriated condition.
Sadly and most unfortunately, India and Pakistan have lived a life of bitter animosity for the past 65 years. In 1947, the subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan by the retreating colonial master, Britain. The two neighbours, now armed with nuclear weapons, have failed to co-exist peacefully, going to wars with each other and orchestrating terror attacks – much to their economic ruin.
The stupidest aspect of the Indo-Pak relationship is their tit-for-tat policy.
There is a sneaking suspicion now that the sadistic attack on Sarabjit Singh was part of a larger conspiracy hatched by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Taliban as a revenge for the hanging of Ajmal Kasab (November 2012, found guilty of the Mumbai terror strike) and Indian national Afzal Guru (February 2013, for his convicted role in storming India’s parliament).
Incidentally, Sarabjit Singh was not the first to die the way he did. In January, an Indian prisoner was also allegedly assaulted by fellow convicts in the same Kot Lakhpat jail at Lahore. Pakistan has not yet given India an autopsy report.
On the other side of the border in India’s Gujarat, a Pakistani prison inmate reportedly committed suicide in April. Was it was it appeared to be?
Men like Sarabjit Singh – it is supposed – could have been part of the foot-soldier brigade used for spying. Both India and Pakistan are known to have resorted to this kind of basic ground-level espionage.
A Firstpost article avers: “For decades, both India and Pakistan had relied on trans-border operators to spy on each other’s militaries. There were some who agreed to do so in return for the right to smuggle alcohol, gold, electronics and heroin. There were others, too, who volunteered, driven by patriotism. Some of the men received training in the tradecraft of the secret agent—avoiding detection; building cover-identities; secret writing using aspirin tablets dissolved in alcohol, to be mailed to RAW outposts in Iran; more lethal skills, like building bombs”.
But the lives of some spies ended as they often do. In jail or death. Some would escape both. But none would ever lead the kind of life that James Bond did. And continues to do so. At least on the screen.
We would never know whether Sarabjit Singh was a spy. But if he was one, he was one – perhaps among many – whom the government forgot.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is India Editor of FMT, and Chennai-based author, columnist and movie critic. He may be emailed at [email protected]