New Delhi: The Congress Friday asked the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government what did it do, while it was in power, to ensure the release of Sarabjit Singh and added that the focus should now be on other Indians in Pakistani jails.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cornered the government over Sarabjit's death Thursday, demanding that diplomatic ties with Pakistan be scaled down until an assurance is offered for the security of Indians in Pakistani jails.
BJP leaders had also blamed the government for not doing enough to save Sarabjit, who died Thursday of wounds sustained during an attack in a Lahore jail April 26.
"When then prime minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) went to Lahore, was Sarabjit Singh's release on the agenda? When then Pakistan president (Pervez Musharraf) had come to Agra, was Sarabjit Singh's release on the agenda? When composite dialogues were started, was the release of Sarabjit Singh on the agenda?" Congress leader Manish Tewari asked Friday.
"Let's not get into all this. The bigger issue is, an Indian citizen has been brutally killed. We should try to create pressure on Pakistan, talk to them, and all Indian prisoners who are in Pakistan jails, Pakistan should assure India of their safety," he said.
Sarabjit, who died after being comatose for a week, had been on death row on conviction in terrorist strikes in Pakistan that left 14 dead.
He spent over 20 years in Pakistani jails.
His family held that his was a case of mistaken identity. They claimed he had crossed over into Pakistan in an inebriated state in 1990, and was neither a spy nor was involved in any bomb blasts.
According to Congress sources, the UPA government has been raising the issue of mercy for Sarabjit at various fora with the Pakistani leadership.
It started when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was assured by former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf during their meeting in New York in 2005, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, that he would look at the question of clemency to Sarabjit in a humanitarian way.
The then external affairs minister Natwar Singh took up the matter with the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi and also with Musharraf during his visit to Islamabad in October 2005, said the sources.
On March 17, 2006, the external affairs ministry had formally requested the Pakistan high commission in Delhi to treat the matter sympathetically and to examine Sarabjit's mercy petition with compassion, said Congress sources.
The matter was also raised with Pakistan at the India-Pakistan home secretary level talks in Islamabad May 24-25, 2012, and later when the foreign secretaries of the two countries met in Delhi July 4-5, 2012, said the sources.
The issue was again taken up with Pakistan during the meeting of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde with his counterpart Rehman Malik in Delhi Dec 20, 2012, they said.
According to the sources, on the request of the high commission of India in Islamabad, consular access was provided by the Pakistani government in 2005 and on Sep 6, 2005, the high commission confirmed the nationality of Sarabjit as Indian.