Pakistan may take up Sarabjit issue at larger level(With main curtainraiser on talks)

May 19th, 2008 - 8:14 pm ICT by admin  

By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad May 19 (IANS) When the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan meeting here Wednesday for talks, Pakistan is likely to take up the case of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s release at a larger level with suggestions that both sides enter into a treaty for “transfer of offenders”. “During the foreign ministers talks in Islamabad, Pakistan will come up with a draft treaty to settle the issue of prisoners and offenders of law in each other’s country,” a senior government official told IANS Monday.

He said that as a goodwill gesture Islamabad will also announce the release of 112 Indian prisoners, mostly fishermen, in Pakistani jails.

However, he said there’s a division of opinion among officials with majority of them saying that Sarabjit Sigh’s release should be linked to the treaty while some feel due to pressure by human rights groups within the country, he may be released as a goodwill gesture.

Another source said that a high-level meeting here last week discussed a proposal to strike a deal with India to exchange Sarabjit for all Pakistani prisoners detained in India.

The new government’s proposal to convert all death sentences to life imprisonment was reviewed with special reference to Sarabjit’s case during the meeting, attended by senior officials of the ministries of foreign affairs, interior, law and human rights.

“Even if Sarabjit is given amnesty and released, he could not be handed over to Indian authorities as Pakistan has not signed any treaty with India for the transfer of offenders,” said the official, adding that he was “caught” red handed and had confessed his crime.

“Please do not confuse it with Kashmir Singh’s case, he had completed his jail term and had to be released after completion of his term whereas Sarabjit has been given capital punishment and cannot be handed over to India until the treaty is signed,” said the official.

However, he said that other prisoners like fishermen can be released on executive orders, but for “Sarabjit Singh we can hand him over to India only if they (Indians) recognize him as an offender under a treaty.”

The Pakistan-India Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners in February 2008 recommended that the two countries exchange the list of each other’s nationals lodged in their jails. The committee had also suggested several steps including immediate release of the prisoners of both the countries, who had completed their sentences and whose nationality had been verified.

According to Pakistani officials, almost 435 Indian fishermen and about 140 others are in Pakistani prisons. “We have recommended release of 112 prisoners and I believe they would be released soon after the talks,” the official said.

The sources said India had long been pressing Pakistan for consular access so that repatriation of Indian prisoners can be expedited.

The Indian government had already released 14 Pakistani fishermen, who were rounded up by the Indian maritime forces in July 2007, from a Gujarat jail and they were repatriated to Pakistan through the Wagha border on Saturday.

The officials said the fishermen were released as a goodwill gesture ahead of the visit of Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi was granted consular access to the released fishermen on the recommendations of the joint judicial committee.

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