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Kulbhushan Jadhav, arrested by Pakistan for alleged espionage, was awarded death penalty by a military court; New Delhi summons envoy, says will consider the move as premeditated murder, cancels release of 12 Pakistanis
A Pakistani military court on Monday sentenced an Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav to death for his alleged involvement in espionage and sabotage activities in Karachi and Balochistan. Jadhav, according to authorities, was kidnapped from Iran before he resurfaced in the custody of Pakistani military.
“The spy was tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) and awarded the death sentence. Today Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa confirmed his death sentence awarded by FGCM,” the military’s media wing said.
Soon after the announcement, India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar summoned Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit and handed over a formal demarche, which rejected the sentence as ‘farcical’ and warned that “if this sentence against an Indian citizen, awarded without observing basic norms of law and justice, is carried out, the Government and people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder.” New Delhi also cancelled release of a dozen Pakistani prisoners who were slated to be repatriated on Wednesday.
According to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, through a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan’s Mashkel area for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan. He was “tried by the FGCM under the Official Secret Act of 1923, and had confessed before a magistrate and court that he was tasked by Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing to plan, coordinate and organise espionage and sabotage activities seeking to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan,” the ISPR said.
“Jadhav never worked for R&AW,” asserts Roy, who held several senior roles in India’s external intelligence agency before retiring. “He was kidnapped last year from Iran and his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly. Jadhav had retired, and started a business in Iran in Chabahar, close to the Pakistan border. From all indications, it appears he was kidnapped from there. No intelligence agency will send a retired 48-year-old man to become a Rambo or a James Bond in Pakistan. To pretend that he also had all sources, contacts to raise terror groups over there is ridiculous. Had it been so, Pakistan would have arrested them by now, and paraded them all on TV.”
Rahul K Bhonsle, director of Security Risks Asia, a consultancy which provides security Information products on South Asia, concurs. “It is obvious that Pakistan Army abducted this person from Iran, where he was working, and then put him through a field general court martial. But as per the Army Act of Pakistan, FGCM is only applicable to those who are subject to the Act. Which means you have to be either enrolled or commissioned in the Pakistan Army. Now they have taken the shelter of the military courts, recently extended for two years. With this death sentence, India has to take quick action. Apart from diplomatic and political pressure, the India must also take the legal recourse of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
What could be the motive behind the death sentence handed out on Monday by a military court to Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav, accused of spying in Pakistan? And what are India’s options?
“This whole thing doesn’t make any sense,” says Bhaskar Roy, a former intelligence official. “It is a very poorly constructed story. Even (Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser) Sartaj Aziz had said some ago that there was no conclusive proof against him, though he backtracked later. After this they seem to have moved very fast. This was not a civil court, it was a military court. I don’t know whether he had any lawyers on his behalf, but that is immaterial, because the army court would give you an army lawyer. It appears now that they are cornered. All their diplomatic campaigns against India have failed,” he says.
“A scoop by the Dawn newspaper some months ago exposed their own internal dilemma and rift between the government and the military over their positions on India. What now? Will they hang him, will they hold him for some bargaining? Hanging this man is not going to get them very far, because it will make things worse. So perhaps it is an advertising poster to the world, saying look here, India is fomenting terrorism and separatism in Pakistan, and we caught this fellow. But that is not going to sell very well. It doesn’t call for a war or something like that, but we need to exert intense diplomatic pressure,” Roy adds.
“Also, after World War II, spies have not really been executed. During the Cold War, between the former Soviet Union and the US, there were instances of spies being caught and then exchanged. But in this case, if it is for an exchange, who do they want? They already have the people they want. And then why sentence him to death so fast? They seem to have gone too far, too fast. What recourse does Jadhav have? Pakistan’s president? Their President doesn’t really have much authority, his hands are tied. So essentially I see this as posturing. Jadhav never worked for R&AW. As for his reported ‘confession’, anybody can say anything under torture. Why do you think they kept denying him consular access? Because then the truth would have come out,” Roy says.
“A multi-track approach has to be applied in this case,” avers Rahul K Bhonsle, director of Security Risks Asia, a consultancy organisation.
“Apart from exerting diplomatic and political pressure, we must utilise the legal option. The Pakistan Supreme Court has to be approached, so that cognizance of this trial is taken and full legal perspective is obtained. We have of course given the demarche, and we have always got some political back channels open, which should be used. The point they are trying to prove is that the terrorists in Pakistan are supported heavily by India. Given the series of terrorist attacks in Pakistan last month, possibly they are looking for an alibi. Then the Chinese are questioning them about the lack of security along the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. So, Pakistan can justify the poor security aspect of CPEC by blaming India for it.”
Major Navdeep Singh, a practicing advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Armed Forces Tribunal described the trial as violation of Article 14 of International Convention of Civil and Political Rights. “Trial by a sham military court, especially of a civilian, is against Art 14 of International Convention of Civil and Political Rights. Pakistan tries civilians through secret court martial, rather than courts. Spies caught in India are put through trial in regular civil courts. Some are even acquitted,” he says.
(With inputs from Ritu Sharma in New Delhi)