India and Pakistan’s silent war

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Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah Haq
Afzal Guru, Sarabjit Singh and Sanaullah Haq

By Fahad Shah


Two men on the death row in the two neighboring countries can be a silent war. It may not be visible to us like the drones or missiles falling on buildings and killing people. Being on death row is in itself an extreme punishment after being convicted. There are several cases in which the convicted person denies of committing the crime. The silent war has been going on between India and Pakistan for years now and still continues. To some extent, on 2 May 2013, the war had a face when an Indian prisoner died in Pakistan after being attacked in the jail.

On 28 August 1990, Sarabjit Singh, an Indian from Punjab state bordering Pakistan was arrested by the Pakistani border guards in drunken state on the border. Sarabjit had a wife and two daughters back home. Visibly on social networking sites and media majority of the people in India claimed that his arrest was a case of mistaken identity, which even he had claimed. He had said that he was drunk and had strayed off the border that night. His family had said that he went to fields and never returned till they received a letter from him telling his story of how he ended up in a Pakistani prison. After eight days of his arrest at the border, the Pakistan police charged him with being involved in the 1990 blasts at Faislabad and Lahore, in which 14 people died. It was said that he was Manjit Singh and was responsible for the four blasts. Also accused of working for the Indian intelligence and viewed as a terrorist in Pakistan, he was convicted of spying and carrying the blasts. Under the Pakistan’s Army act he was given death sentence. Five mercy petitions were filed but none of them could help to get him released after serving twenty two years in prison.

Mercy petitions are hardly accepted these days in the two countries. After being awarded the death sentence by all courts it is only the mercy petition which can grant life to a person who is on death row. In both these nuclear power and politically stormed countries, India and Pakistan, a person can be hanged till death. India hanged two convicts since November 2012. First was on 21 November, Ajmal Kasab who was convicted for the attacks in Mumbai- India’s financial capital, in 2008. On 9 February 2013, Mohammad Afzal Guru- a Kashmiri convicted of attacking the Indian Parliament in December 2001 was hanged in India’s Tihar jail. There are two Kashmiris buried in the Tihar jail compound. One is the founder of Kashmir’s pro-freedom group, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Maqbool Butt. Butt was hanged on 11 February 1984 after being convicted of murdering an Indian intelligence officer. Another is Guru now. In both the hangings, the Indian authorities didn’t inform their families and hanged them secretly. People of Kashmir are still protesting and demanding the return of their remains.

Guru was a Kashmiri and had wife and a son. Guru’s case, since the investigations started, had several major loopholes and was falling apart. But the conviction of police to deliver “justice” to the nine people who were killed in the attack was strong. Guru was awarded death sentence by the Supreme Court to “satisfy the collective conscience of society.”

This “collective conscience” woke up after Sarabjit’s death and said Pakistan didn’t accept his mercy petition as he was on death row too. Though, a few days after his death a national daily newspaper of India reported that Sarabjit was indeed an intelligence agent of India, sent their on an operation. The focus in India always remains on to “deliver justice” but no one defines the justice in this part of the world. Guru tried to tell his side of the story but that was not taken seriously. Justice doesn’t come with conditions. Guru in his own words explained that how he was framed by the Jammu and Kashmir’s police in the case and was forced to go to Delhi in that month when the Indian Parliament was attacked. This didn’t make any difference on court’s verdict, not even on people’s demands, not even on Twitter crowd who are always up in arms to deliver every kind of “immediate justice”.

The people of Kashmir were saddened when Guru was hanged and they protested on streets only till the government representing India in the state used brute force and again imprisoned a whole population in their homes. No one was allowed to come out on the streets and the Kashmir valley passed weeks under curfew.

[pullquote]The noose is tightened without listening to the person, getting hanged; bodies are exchanged or buried in jails; people, common people, are still awaiting justice.[/pullquote]Despite such a weak case against Guru and strong opposition to the hanging the government of India went ahead and hanged him. After his hanging, some sections of the society thought that Pakistan will now respond to this by hanging Sarabjit Singh. The silent war; it never stops. This was trading of life or death of two persons. Why were people expecting Pakistan to do anything after the hanging of a Kashmiri? It is so because Pakistan claims Kashmir (Jammu and Kashmir state) as their “jugular vein”, while India has been claiming it as “atoot ang” (inseparable part). Neither of the two countries have full control on the whole region while lately China has been putting up army tents miles inside the Indian occupied part of the region, despite already occupying a large portion. The region remains disputed and Indian side is still the most militarized zone on earth with more than half a million troops fighting 78 militants (latest official figures of militants).

Sarbjit Singh died. Singh was not hanged but he was attacked by jail inmates on April 26 and succumbed to his injuries on May 2 at Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. Singh didn’t deserve such a death. Even if he was guilty that didn’t mean he could be beaten up and then succumb to his injuries. A particular section of the people of India demanded war against Pakistan but then a minor spark in South Asia can lead to third world war.

Kashmir’s a few Twitterati were expressing happiness on Singh’s death; that was strange and sad too. Saying that his death comes as revenge to Guru’s hanging surely is not sane minds thought. If Guru pleaded of innocence and his case was weak, then we could also be patient to listen to Singh’s story.

Revenge. A Pakistani prisoner, Sanaullah Haq, was in Jammu jail. A day after Sarabjit’s death, on May 3, he was attacked by jail inmate and since then has been critical at the hospital. Now both the countries had same situation, the only difference that Haq was alive.  On May 9, Haq succumbed to his injuries in an Indian hospital. An eye for an eye.

Still there are protests, hate mongering, accusations, electronic media is filling in studios with full-time debaters who are discussing what Pakistan did and what should India do now. Both the countries are demanding justice from each other. Between the battles of two countries families lose. Ghalib, Guru’s 14-year-old son, after his father’s hanging told me that his father is a martyr, not a terrorist. For him he will be a martyr, always, even though India never informed him that his father will be hanged or they didn’t return his body to his family till date. For Singh and Haq, their families would always mourn their death. There are thousands of prisoners in both the countries and courts are filled up with the cases. The definition of justice is yet to be figured in this part of the globe.

The noose is tightened without listening to the person, getting hanged; bodies are exchanged or buried in jails; people, common people, are still awaiting justice.


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