A day after a Pakistani military court handed Kulbhushan Jadhav the death penalty for being an Indian “spy”, the government warned Islamabad of “consequences” on bilateral ties if the sentence is carried out. The government assured agitated members of Parliament that it will go “out of the way” to ensure justice to the former Navy officer who has been in Pakistani custody since March 2016.
Making a statement in both Houses of Parliament Tuesday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who described Jadhav as a “son of India”, said his execution will be taken by India as “pre-meditated murder” and Pakistan should “consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter”.
In Rajya Sabha, while responding to Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad’s query on whether Jadhav will be provided a lawyer in the Pakistan Supreme Court, Swaraj said: “Yeh toh aapne bahut chhoti baat kahi hai. Supreme Court ke liye toh bade se bade vakil ki vyavastha karenge. Lekin kewal Supreme Court me hi nahin, is poore case mein, isey bachane ke liye jo bhi karna parega, out of the way jaakar woh bhi hum log karenge (This is a very small thing you have mentioned. We will arrange for the best of lawyers in the Supreme Court. Not only for the Supreme Court, but for the entire case. We will go out of the way to save him).”
“Let me state clearly that the government and people of India would view very seriously the possibility that an innocent Indian citizen is facing death sentence in Pakistan without due process and in violation of basic norms of law, justice and international relations. I would caution the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter,” she said.
She said the charges against Jadhav, who was doing business in Iran and was kidnapped and taken to Pakistan, are “concocted” and the trial against him was “farcical”, leading to an “indefensible verdict”.
“There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Jadhav. If anything, he is the victim of a plan that seeks to cast aspersions on India to deflect international attention from Pakistan’s well-known record of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.”
Questioning the trial, she said Pakistan had sought India’s assistance to obtain evidence for its investigation and levelled “ridiculous charges” against senior Indian officials who had no connection to this issue. Pakistan then linked providing consular access to India’s acceptance of its position. The Indian response, she said, was constructive in the hope that some forward movement could be made.
“We pointed out that consular access to Jadhav would be an essential pre-requisite in order to verify the facts and understand the circumstances of his presence in Pakistan. Given this exchange, it is extraordinary that yesterday, a decision is suddenly announced awarding a death sentence in this case when previous exchanges with India itself underlines the insufficiency of evidence,” she said.
“To make matters even more absurd, three hours after the death sentence was announced, the Indian High Commission received an official communication from the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan, reiterating the Pakistani proposal for conditional consular access.”
“That tells us a lot about the farcical nature of the alleged proceedings which have led to an indefensible verdict against an innocent kidnapped Indian,” she said, describing Jadhav as “not only the son of his parents, but is the son of India”.
Swaraj said the exact circumstances under which Jadhav reached Pakistan are unclear and can only be ascertained if India has consular access to him, which has been denied by the Pakistani authorities. Such access is provided for by international law and is deemed a norm in international relations but the government of Pakistan did not permit it, she said.
She also informed Parliament that a senior Pakistani leader has himself expressed doubts about the adequacy of evidence in the case. This was an oblique reference to Pakistan Prime Minister’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz telling Pakistan’s Senate that the evidence was “insufficient”, which was later denied by the Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
She said she has been in touch with Jadhav’s parents and the government was extending them its fullest support in this difficult situation. “I have met them two-three times and have been in phone conversation about six times,” she told Rajya Sabha.
Her statement came after Opposition members in Rajya Sabha, including SP’s Naresh Agarwal, raised the issue of Jadhav and said it was an attempt to defame India and deflect attention of the international community from Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
Earlier in Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the government will do everything possible to get justice for Jadhav. Condemning the award of death penalty, Singh said that Pakistan had ignored all norms of law and justice.
“The government strongly condemns it. All norms of law and justice were ignored. I want to assure the House that the government will do everything possible to get justice for Jadhav. He will get justice,” he said.
As soon as Lok Sabha met for the day, members cut across party lines to slam Pakistan over the award of the death penalty. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge questioned the government on its silence, a remark that drew a sharp response from BJP members who said the government had already spoken on the matter.
“Without an invitation, you can attend a marriage, but you cannot meet him or talk to him on the issue,” Kharge said, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore to attend a wedding in the Nawaz Sharif family.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan stepped in and told members: “There should be no spat on the issue. We all are equally concerned about the fate of Jadhav.”
Outside the House, Congress leader P Chidambaram said the government should inform Parliament about the efforts it had made to secure the release of Jadhav. Slamming Pakistan, he said Jadhav had been put through a kangaroo trial.
“I recall a statement by Sartaj Aziz in December 2016, where he said that there is not enough evidence to proceed against Kulbhushan… From a statement which says that there is not enough evidence to legally proceed against Kulbhushan to a death penalty given by a military tribunal, whose jurisdiction to try an unarmed foreigner is seriously in doubt, is a huge leap,” he said.
The world, he said, “knows that this was a kangaroo trial if a trial took place at all, and the so-called justice meted out to Kulbhushan is sham justice.”
“The whole nation condemns Pakistan for going through this mock or kangaroo trial and inflicting this maximum penalty upon an admitted Indian citizen, who according to reports was perhaps kidnapped from a third country and not arrested in territory controlled by Pakistan. We hope that good sense will prevail and the death penalty imposed by this sham tribunal will not be carried out. This I am saying in the fervent hope and prayer that Kulbhushan is still alive,” he said.