After spending 30 years in a Pakistani jail, the 75-year-old Indian spy Surjeet Singh crossed over into his homeland on Thursday.
Singh was handed over to the Indian authorities at Wagah border along with 315 Indian fishermen who had been released two days before from a detention facility in Karachi.
Singh was released from Kot Lakhpat Jail on Thursday and was taken to Wagah border by jail authorities, accompanied by Joint Secretary Khushdil Khan Khattak at the interior ministry.
His handcuffs were removed at the border and a beaming Surjeet embraced his Pakistani lawyer, Advocate Awais Sheikh.
Sheikh gave him a shalwar kameez and Khattak presented him a bouquet and a gift on behalf of the interior advisor, Rehman Malik.
Jail officials then handed him over to Pakistan Rangers who subsequently handed him over to Indian Border Security Force.
Surjeet’s family members were waiting for him on the other side of the border. As soon as he crossed over, Surjeet hugged his daughter, Parvindar Kaur, and his son Kalwindar Singh.
Surjeet, in a brief talk to the media at the border, said that he was extremely delighted to return home and reunite with his family after 30 years.
“By God’s grace I am meeting my family again after 30 years. I am extremely happy,” he said.
He added that he had no complaints and all Indian prisoners in Kot Lakpat jail were treated well. He confessed that he had been sent to Pakistan to spy for the Indian army and said he would never return to the country again.
Surjeet said he will go straight to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and then go home to celebrate his release.
The Indian national was arrested by Pakistani police on charges of spying during the regime of Ziaul Haq. Singh was given the death sentence under the Pakistan Army Act in 1985, which was commuted to life imprisonment in 1989 by then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
An official of Kot Lakhpat told The Express Tribune that Surjeet has been at the jail since 1982, and added that he never created trouble for jail authorities.
There are 33 Indian prisoners whose jail term has been completed but they could not be released since Indian authorities could not confirm their identification, the official said.
Sarabjit’s family appeals
Calling it the “biggest shock of their lives,” the family of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who has been in a Pakistani jail for 22 years, said they suspected larger events at play across the border may have forced Islamabad to change its mind on Tuesday about releasing him after announcing that he would be freed.
Appealing to President Asif Ali Zardari not to take back the “gift” he had given them, the family said Sarabjit’s freedom was critical to good relations between India and Pakistan.
The dramatic events of Tuesday night had drained Sarabjit’s family after Pakistan announced that the Indian prisoner in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail — sentenced to death for his alleged role in bomb blasts – would be released after his sentence was commuted to life. Hours later, though, it was clarified that it was not Sarabjit but another Indian prisoner, Surjeet Singh, who was being released.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2012.