The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pervez speaks of compassion

New Delhi, Sept. 10: Four days before his dinner meeting with Manmohan Singh, the Pakistan President has raised hopes that Sarabjit Singh may not be hanged.

“One has to take the decision in a deliberate manner,” Pervez Musharraf told reporters today. “It needs to come to me with all its legal implications. Then only will I take a decision.”

He, however, went on to add: “But I am a person who shows compassion and mercy.”

Sarabjit, who is being called Manjeet Singh in Pakistan, has been sentenced to death on charges of being an Indian spy and carrying out serial blasts in Pakistan in 1990. His family says he is innocent and there has been a clamour in India for his release.

Delhi, too, has been gently pressuring Islamabad to free Sarabjit; but with his loaded comments, Musharraf seems to have snatched the initiative from India.

If he grants clemency to Sarabjit, the Pakistan President can buttress his image of a “modern man” from an Islamic state who is committed to peace with India.

If he does not, he would be accused of hanging an “innocent man” and of trying to scuttle the peace process with Delhi.

The claims for Sarabjit’s innocence have been strengthened with two Pakistanis who had testified against the Indian backing off this week. One of them said his statement was made under duress.

In this backdrop, Musharraf may try to turn a necessity into a virtue. If he pardons Sarabjit, not only would he be able to take the moral high ground, he would be making it extremely difficult for India to execute a Pakistani in future.

It’s not clear whether, if Musharraf pardons Sarabjit, he would be released from jail and allowed to return to India. The Pakistani authorities might still find ways of keeping him in custody for some more time.

But the overwhelming opinion is that Sarabjit might be freed since he has already spent 15 years in prison, which is more than the usual span of a life sentence in Pakistan.

South Block officials say Musharraf’s comments are extremely significant because they come just before his meeting with Manmohan Singh, who has invited him to dinner in New York on September 14 to discuss the peace process.

But they deny that Musharraf, by releasing Sarabjit, can hobble Delhi’s fight against terrorism.

“Our judicial process is much more transparent and it has seldom been challenged by outsiders,” an official said.

These brave words notwithstanding, few would dispute that Musharraf appears to be winning this round.

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