Attari (Punjab): After more than 30 years of incarceration in Pakistan, Surjeet
Singh returned home Thursday to a tumultuous and teary welcome
from family and friends and promptly admitted that he had indeed
been sent to spy for India.
Held in Pakistan on spying charges in the early 1980s, Surjeet,
69, was released from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail early Thursday and
made the road journey to Wagah, on the Pakistan side of the
border, before entering his homeland.
"I was a RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent. No one bothered
about me after I got arrested. Don't ask me too much...," Surjeet
told reporters soon after stepping on Indian soil.
He was garlanded and hugged by family members and fellow villagers
from Phidde in Ferozepur district. Dozens of camera crews and
media persons jostled with each other to capture the moment.
The crowds were so frenetic that Surjeet, who completed his life
term in 2005, couldn't even meet his wife Harbans Kaur. They were
taken to Amritsar, where the family offered prayers at Harmandar
Sahib, the holiest of Sikh shrines, in separate vehicles.
Smiling and waving to family members, friends and supporters, a
tired but beaming Surjeet thanked Pakistani border officials as he
walked across the zero line at the international border.
"I am very happy to return after 30 years and meet my children and
family," he said.
"Indian prisoners are treated well in Pakistan jails. Sarabjit
Singh is also doing well there. I met him recently though I
couldn't meet him today before leaving. He has sent no message
with me. Leave it to me, I will get him released... Please don't
ask anything more," Surjeet said, referring to Sarabjit Singh,
also from Punjab who has been in Kot Lakhpat jail.
Downplaying the confusion over the release, he said: "In Urdu, the
way they write Sarabjit and Surjeet is almost the same. This led
to the confusion. Otherwise, everyone knew that the matter was
regarding my release only.
"I will never return to Pakistan again," Surjeet, with a grey
flowing beard, told reporters in Punjabi, his head and finger
indicating a firm "no" gesture.
"I was arrested earlier for spying charges. If I return again, the
security agencies might suspect that I have come for spying
Surjeet said prisoners on both sides of the border should be
released by the respective governments.
"I was treated well by prison officials and I am thankful to
them," he said.
Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama and black turban and carrying two
bags, Surjeet had been brought to the Wagah border on the Pakistan
side in a prison van.
Though he had been freed, his left hand was in handcuffs. The
accompanying policemen got down with him but did not open the
handcuffs immediately even as he smiled and hugged his lawyer.
Once the formalities were completed, he crossed to the Attari side
of the joint border checkpost, about 30 km from Amritsar, where
his family and friends waited excitedly to meet him.
His son Kulwinder, holding a box of sweets, couldn't hold back his
tears. The family had given up hope of seeing him again, presuming
him to be dead after he went missing near the border in Ferozepur
sector in 1982.
"I was only two-three years old when he went missing. This is the
biggest day of my life," said Kulwinder.
Surjeet's release came in the midst of the controversy and
flip-flop over the release of Sarabjit Singh.
The Pakistan side was Tuesday widely reported to have announced
that Sarabjit, who is facing death penalty on terrorism charges,
would be released after his death sentence was commuted by
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
In an apparent flip, this was retracted later at night with the
government clarifying that it was not Sarabjit but Surjeet who was