Last week, news sources reported that Kashmir Singh, the Indian national who was held in a Pakistani prison for 35 years under espionage charges, was released on Tuesday after being granted amnesty by President Musharraf, [see the post from Pakistaniat for more background.] After crossing over the border into India last week, Singh was given a hero’s welcome and was showered with rose petals. Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister, Ansar Burney, discovered in December that the Indian national, who denied vehemently that he was a spy for the past 35 years, was still languishing in Pakistani prison, and proceeded to advocate for his release.
Singh’s subsequent release last week was viewed as a major humanitarian gesture by the Pakistani government. However, a development covered on Saturday could potentially turn this gesture into an “international embarrassment” for the Pakistani government. On Friday, Singh confessed to reporters that he in fact was a spy for the Indian government, stating, “I did the duty assigned to me as a spy … I was a regular recruit. I did not open my mouth for 35 years in Pakistan.” According to BBC News, he also criticized the Indian government, “which he said did nothing for him and his family while he was in jail.” However, the AFP reported that Singh was paid about 400 rupees a month (10 dollars) for his work. He told reporters, “I went to serve my country…even Pakistan authorities failed to get this information from me.” Singh declined to tell reporters which Indian agency employed him, however.
According to the Associated Press today, Singh appeared to backpedal from Friday’s statements which “could imperil hundreds of prisoners held on both sides in similar circumstances.” He reportedly told the private Indian CNN-IBN that his comments were misinterpreted and he was actually not a spy. However, the AP added, “…his credibility was in doubt.” Pakistan’s Daily Times cited Burney’s reaction to the development. The minister still asserted that Singh’s release was correct and implied that the Indian may have “been forced to make that statement.” The Times added, “APP quoted him as telling Express News that if Singh was a spy, he should have been hanged in 1978 when the president rejected his mercy petition…” Despite the development, Burney said that India would release 25 Pakistani prisoners in return for Singh.
To be honest, I was confused by the whole turn of events on Friday – if Singh truly was a spy, why admit it now? It does nothing but antagonize relations and perceptions between Pakistan and India at a time when the two countries are in a period of relative peace. Last week, his release was potentially a positive development for prisoners still languishing on either side of the border. However, could his confession hold serious ramifications for the recent prisoner exchanges? If anything, it’s a slap in the face to these efforts.