Some 85 kilometres and an international border separate Bhikhiwind in Punjabs Tarn Taran district and Lahore Central Jail,also known as Kot Lakhpat jail. Sarabjit Singh,49,couldnt cover that distance alive in over 22 years.
The government on either side has its own different take on who he was and how he reached Pakistan before he was arrested. To Pakistani authorities,he was Manjit Singh,arrested in 1990 on charges of having worked for Indian intelligence agencies and later charged with involvement in four serial blasts in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people that year.
To his family and his lawyer Awaish Sheikh,he was innocent Sarabjit,who had inadvertently crossed the border,drunk,and who was then charged in a case of mistaken identity when the person really responsible was Manjit Singh.
The blasts took place on July 29,1990. Sarabjit was shown arrested on August 30 from near the Kasur border. Sarabjit claimed he had been in India when the blasts took place and crossed over to Pakistan on the night of August 29-30. His family,insisting this had happened inadvertently,claimed to have lodged a missing persons complaint.
During the trial,a special court reportedly told Sarabjit that the FIR was registered against Manjit Singh alias Sarabjit Singh,son of Mehanga Singh. Sarabjit insisted his fathers name was Sulakhan Singh.
In 2010,a Manjit Singh was arrested by Haryana police. In 2011,Sarabjits lawyer told Pakistans supreme court that it was the same Manjit Singh who had carried out the attack. He claimed to have produced proof about Manjit having been in Pakistan then.
Between the death sentence by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore in 1991 (confirmed by Pakistans supreme court in 2005) and Manjit Singhs arrest,a date had been set for Sarabjits execution at one stage April 30,2008. It was deferred indefinitely following then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilanis intervention.
Hope emerged briefly in June 2012 with reports about an impending release,before Pakistan clarified it was freeing Surjeet Singh,not Sarabjit.
Of the 22 years Sarabjit spent in the Kot Lakhpat Jail,19 were reportedly spent in solitary confinement,allegedly in so small a cell that it didnt allow him even to stand straight. It was only a couple of years ago that he was allowed to stay in his cell without shackles.
While the April 26 attack took everyone by surprise,Sarabjit appears to have anticipated something like that. Last August,he wrote to his family and Congress president Sonia Gandhi saying he feared for his life. Something was being added to his meals,he wrote,leaving him in physical discomfort,especially in the arms and legs.