An Indian accused of being a 'spy' by Pakistan has died of head injuries after an attack that was allegedly carried out by fellow inmates. Sarabjit Singh had spent over two decades in jail.
Many Indians thought he was innocent. Millions of them prayed last week for his recovery. In vain. Sarabjit Singh died on Thursday at Jinnah Hospital in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
He had been imprisoned in 1990, convicted as a spy and sentenced to death. Last week, two inmates allegedly beat him up with bricks. The police has opened an inquiry into the incident.
Pakistani authorities handed over the body after an autopsy was performed by a medical board. Samples from the body were sent for forensic tests and the final report on the autopsy is expected to be submitted in two weeks, sources told the Indian news agency PTI.
Ups and downs of Indo-Pak relations
The fate of the 49-year-old can be read as a symbol of the ups and downs in Indo-Pakistani relations. A farmer from Bhikiwind in northern Punjab state, Singh was arrested on the border after twin attacks in Faisalabad and Lahore killed 14 people.
His family never believed he was guilty. They said he had crossed the border inadvertently because he was drunk and claimed he was the victim of mistaken identity.
His appeals were repeatedly rejected by the Pakistani courts.
The Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said that the government had been pressing Islamabad to release him since 2005.
Singh had told his family and lawyer he feared he might be attacked in recent weeks.
Although the two rivals resumed peace talks in February 2011, ties have been strained since the sole remaining gunman of the 2008 attacks on Mumbai Ajmal Kasab was hanged last November and when Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru was executed in February after being convicted in a 2001 attack on India's parliament.
In January, tensions rose when a clash between the two countries' forces in the disputed region of Kashmir in January that left four Pakistani and two Indian soldiers dead.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political commentator from Pakistan, said this matter would not help. "Even if there is a possibility for resuming dialogue it will not be a fast process."
"Nothing influences Indian foreign policy as much as public opinion," agreed Savita Pande, a Pakistan expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "The attack on Sarabjit Singh was a grave violation of human rights and that's why India is so angry."
Sarabjit Singh's sister Dalbir Kaur accused the Pakistani government of being murderers. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said that ties between the two countries "have been hurt by this terrible tragedy."
"For the present, I can only say that it is a terrible psychological and emotional setback to all of us and I believe to what we have been trying to do in terms of creating greater cohesion between people of India and people of Pakistan."
Singh's family always insisted he was the victim of mistaken identity
Narendra Modi, a senior leader in India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told an election rally in southern Mangalore: "I directly blame the government of Pakistan for the murder of Sarabjit Singh. It is an extrajudicial killing."
"(The) centre is unable to give a strong answer to Pakistan's inhuman acts. Beheading of our soldiers and now Sarabjit's death are two recent examples," he wrote on Twitter.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947 when they both gained independence from British rule.
Bargaining with prisoners
There are no exact figures as to how many Indians are held in Pakistani jails and vice versa. Human rights activists in both countries have repeatedly complained that prisoners are mistreated, sometimes even tortured. Trials often drag out for decades.
Hasan Askari Rizvi thinks the tendency of both governments to see prisoners as bargaining chips is regrettable. "For example, there is an experts' group with representatives of both countries - judges and lawyers - who meet regularly to talk about the prisoners. But Pakistan and India have to maintain their dialogue and exchange prisoners."
He does not hold high hopes that this will happen any time soon because of the great deal of distrust on either side of the border. "There is often an outcry whenever there is talk of releasing prisoners."
The two sides have announced they will do more to monitor and protect the safety of prisoners on other side of the border.