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If Pak hangs Kulbhushan Jadhav, India says it'll be 'premeditated murder'

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 11 April 2017, 18:17 IST

In a highly provocative move, a Pakistani Army court has sentenced businessman and former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav to death on charges of espionage and sabotage for the Research & Analysis Wing.

The Ministry of External Affairs, in a demarche issued to the Pakistani High Commissioner, has warned that if the sentence is carried out, the government and the people of India will regard it as a case of 'premeditated murder'. The Indian government has strongly denied Jadhav's association with any security agency.

Pak may move fast

Security analysts say there is a fear that Jadhav may be sent to the gallows in the next few days, as the sentence has been confirmed by Pakistani Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“This is clear provocation,” one security analyst said, pointing out how the norm suggests that such 'security prisoners', as they are called, are exchanged quietly between both countries from time to time.

“One reason for this machismo could be General Bajwa trying to come out of the shadows of the larger-than-life image of the previous Army chief, General Raheel Shareef,” a former diplomat said.

The development may further aggravate tension between both the countries, which has been on a rapid upswing since the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot last January. That this development comes at a time of such heightened hostilities may put both the top officials in India and Pakistan in a Catch-22 situation.

A former diplomat explained how Prime Minister Narendra Modi may come under serious pressure to “do something”, since it involves a former defence official, and similarly, how public sentiment against India in Pakistan may force the security officials to implement the decision, unlike in such spy games where the security agencies would like to keep the space to manoeuvre.

MEA raises serious questions over trial

Meanwhile, the Indian government has raised serious questions on Jadhav's trial.

Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the Pakistani military, had said: “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 ISPR had added that the accused had been “provided with a defending officer as per legal provisions”.

However, the MEA, in its demarche to the Pakistani High Commissioner, said the proceedings which led to the sentencing were “farcical in absence of any credible evidence against him”. The MEA also explained how Pakistan kept the Indian High Commission in Islamabad in the dark on the issue, how it was not informed that Jadhav was being brought to trial.

“The claim in the ISPR release that Shri Jadhav was provided with a defending officer during the so-called trial is clearly absurd in the circumstances,” the MEA stated.

The MEA had requested consular access to Jadhav as many as 13 times from 25 March 2016 to 31 March 2017. The requests were denied by the Pakistani authorities.

“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,” the MEA said in a statement hours after the ISPR's press release announcing the death sentence to Jadhav.

Sartaj Aziz, the Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister, has reportedly responded, saying that Jadhav has been sentenced according to law.

Amnesty backs India

However, India's stance has received backing from human rights NGO Amnesty International. Its South Asia director, Biraj Patnaik, said in a statement: “The death sentence given to Kulbushan Jadhav shows yet again how Pakistan's military court system rides roughshod over international standards. Stripping defendants of their rights and operating in notorious secrecy, military courts do not dispense justice but travesty it. They are an inherently abusive system that are best left to deal with issues of military discipline, not any other crimes. Amnesty opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances, regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence, or the method of execution.”

No specific evidence?

Pakistani Army courts are highly secretive, and mostly award sentences without giving the accused a chance to defend himself. Only last month, the courts were finally renewed by the Pakistani Parliament for another two years after stiff opposition from the Opposition Pakistan People's Party and civil society groups, who have raised serious questions over the arbitrary way these courts dispense 'justice'.

Analysts point out that Pakistani authorities failed to come out with specific evidence on Jadhav's alleged role in espionage, beside a confession which was aired on news channels. “You put a man two days in the custody of the security agencies or the army, and he can confess anything. They could have made him say that he was even involved in the killing of Abraham Lincoln,” a security analyst who keeps a close eye on Pakistan told Catch.

“They claimed that he was somehow involved in the attack on Ismailis in the Safoora neighbourhood. But then, they had already said that the attack was carried out by a group affiliated to the Islamic State.”

The sentencing comes after reports of a statement by Aziz that there was 'no evidence' against Jadhav. “Dossier on Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav contained mere statements. It did not have any conclusive evidence,” Aziz had reportedly told the Pakistani Senate (Upper House), according to the TV channel Geo News.

“Senior Pakistani figures have themselves cast doubts about the adequacy of evidence,” the Indian MEA said in the statement.

Of course, the Pakistani Foreign Office had come out with a clarification that Aziz was misquoted.

Conflicting reports on Jadhav

While Pakistani Army claims that Jadhav was an active intelligence operative, the Indian government insists that he is a former Navy officer from Mumbai who retired in 2001.

The Indian government maintains that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran, and his presence in Pakistan has not been credibly explained. Indian agencies suspected that he may have been abducted by one of the many terror groups controlled by the Pakistani security agencies along the Iranian-Pakistani border.

Jadhav had set up a business dealing in scrap in the port town of Chabahar, in Iranian Balochistan, after his retirement from the Indian Navy.

The Pakistani Army has claimed that he was found with a forged passport issued in the name of one Hussein Mubarak Patel. A report in Dawn claimed that he was arrested by Pakistani authorities on 3 March 2016 when he attempted to cross over into the country from the Saravan border in Iran, and that he was involved in subversive activities in Balochistan and in Karachi, including maintaining contacts with Baloch insurgents.

However, reports in the Indian press claim that he had lost touch with his family in February, raising doubts if he was picked up by the Pakistani agencies earlier than they claim.

Ex-Pak Army officer disappears in Nepal

Meanwhile, a former Pakistani Army officer, Lt Col Mohammad Habib, mysteriously disappeared from the Buddhist religious town of Lumbini in Nepal on Thursday.

Speculation is rife in the Pakistani media that this may be a kidnapping engineered by Indian agencies. Details of the case are still unclear.

First published: 10 April 2017, 21:27 IST