OVER A year after former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, 46, was arrested, a military court in Pakistan has sentenced him to death for “espionage and subversive activities”, triggering a sharp reaction from India which said if the execution takes place, it will “regard it as a case of premeditated murder”.
Announcing the decision on Monday, the Pakistan Army said its chief, General Qamar Ahmed Bajwa, had “confirmed” Jadhav’s death sentence after a Field General Court Martial found him “guilty of all charges”.
Hours after the announcement, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar summoned Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit and conveyed that if Jadhav is awarded the capital punishment, India will consider it a “case of premeditated murder”. Issuing a demarche to Basit, India said “the proceedings that led to the sentence” against Jadhav were “farcical in the absence of any credible evidence” against him.
A top government source told The Indian Express that New Delhi will explore all “diplomatic and other” options to obtain Jadhav’s release.
Over the last one year, New Delhi submitted a note verbale to Islamabad “13 times” for “consular access” — the first step towards establishing the identity of an Indian national and providing legal aid — but the Pakistan government denied the requests. India sought consular access to Jadhav on March 25, March 30, May 6, June 10, July 11 and December 19 last year, and on January 19, February 2 (twice), February 3, March 3, March 21 and March 31 this year.
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“Indian RAW agent/ Naval officer 41558Z Commander Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel was arrested on March 3, 2016 through a counter intelligence operation from Mashkel, Balochistan, for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan. The spy has been tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under Pakistan Army Act (PAA) and awarded death sentence. Today, Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has confirmed his death sentence awarded by FGCM,” said a press release issued by Pakistan Army’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor today.
“Jadhav was tried by FGCM under Section 59 of Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 and Section 3 of Official Secrets Act of 1923. FGCM found Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav guilty of all the charges. He confessed before a magistrate and the court that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organise espionage/ sabotage activities aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the efforts of law enforcement agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi. The accused was provided with defending officer as per legal provisions,” it said.
Hours later, Jaishankar handed a demarche to Basit which said, “We have seen the ISPR press release today regarding Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian citizen, who has been awarded death sentence by a Pakistani military court martial… 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.”
Stating that Jadhav “was kidnapped last year from Iran and his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly”, the demarche said “the Government of India, through its High Commission in Islamabad, has repeatedly sought consular access to him, as provided for by international law. Requests to that effect were formally made 13 times between March 25, 2016 and March 31, 2017. This was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities.”
It said that “the proceedings that have led to the sentence against Shri Jadhav are farcical in the absence of any credible evidence against him. It is significant that our High Commission was not even informed that Jadhav was being brought to trial. Senior Pakistani figures have themselves cast doubt about the adequacy of evidence. The claim in the ISPR release that Jadhav was provided with a defending officer during the so-called trial is clearly absurd in the circumstances.”
Sources in New Delhi pointed to a reported statement by Pakistan PM’s advisor on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, who had told Pakistan’s Senate in December last year that the evidence against Jadhav was “insufficient”. “What the dossier contained on Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav were mere statements…it did not have any conclusive evidence,” Aziz was quoted by Pakistan’s media as saying. The statement was, however, later denied by Pakistan’s foreign ministry.
Last year, then ISPR head Lt Gen Asim Bajwa had aired Jadhav’s confessional statement, in which he had purportedly admitted his involvement in terror activities in Balochistan and Karachi. Terming his arrest as a “big achievement”, Bajwa had claimed that Jadhav was directly handled by the R&AW chief, Indian National Security Advisor and R&AW joint secretary.
“His goal was to disrupt development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with Gwadar port as a special target,” Bajwa had said. “This is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism… There can be no clearer evidence of Indian interference in Pakistan… If an intelligence or an armed forces officer of this rank is arrested in another country, it is a big achievement,” he had said, before going on to play a video in which Jadhav had purportedly admitted R&AW’s involvement in separatist activities in Pakistan.
India had acknowledged that Jadhav had served in the Navy, but denied that he had any existing connection with the government. “The individual has no link with the government since his premature retirement from the Indian Navy,” the Ministry of External Affairs had said in a statement in March last year.
Jadhav’s death sentence comes at a time when India-Pakistan relations are strained, especially seven months after India conducted “surgical strikes” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
In a related development, India on Monday decided not to release about a dozen Pakistani prisoners who were to be repatriated on Wednesday. Sources said it was not the right time for the release of Pakistani prisoners.
Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Bhutto told mediapersons in Pakistan that his party opposes the death sentence. “We don’t believe in death penalty in general… I have a principled stance, whoever my be involved… It is a controversial issue. The Indian spy shouldn’t have been here. Although the case is special, I am talking about death penalty in principle,” he said.