Pardon is possible for convicted spy

Kashif Khan

Supporters of convicted Indian spy Sarabjit Singh, sentenced to death in Pakistan, are holding out hope he will be pardoned after talks between senior officials last week.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri said after meeting President Pervez Musharraf: 'If a mercy petition comes for the convict, then the president will decide the case on merit.'

Mr Kasuri was apparently referring to media reports that the Indian leadership might soon appeal to Pakistan to spare Singh's life.

On Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed in New Delhi that an 'appropriate message' had been sent to Islamabad, while Pakistan allowed Indian diplomats to meet the convicted spy.

Arrested in 1990 by Pakistan's border security forces on charges of spying, Sarabjit Singh has spent 15 years in jail and is awaiting execution in a Lahore prison after his death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on August 18.

Singh was tried in an anti-terrorism court, which convicted and sentenced him to death on five counts on the basis of his confessions about his alleged links with the Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and his involvement in multiple bomb blasts in Pakistan.

Singh's family has denied the charges.

Peace advocates in Pakistan are urging General Musharraf to respond positively to the clemency appeal, which they consider might also serve as a powerful confidence-building measure for the peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

'It would be sensible to commute the death sentence as a unilateral step to break clean with the past when the two countries launched covert operations inside each other's territories,' said Farhatullah Babar, a senator from former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.

But pardoning Singh might not prove easy for General Musharraf, who is facing opposition by hardline Islamists over this issue.