Fifty, perhaps a hundred years from now, a historian may stumble across the truth of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s story hidden in an archive in New Delhi or Islamabad. Irrespective of whether the former Indian naval officer was, or was not, working for Indian intelligence, however, this much is clear: He is entitled to the due process of law — the foundational principle of civilised societies. The bizarre charade that has led Jadhav to death row in Pakistan is a parody of it — something that does Pakistan no service, discrediting its case before the international community. There is no country that can even pretend to be a democracy which tries alleged spies in closed military courts without competent legal representation. No democracy denies them access to consular officials — an internationally-recognised treaty right. The quality of Pakistan’s investigation of this case is evident from the fact that it did not even seem, through due legal process, to produce documentation germane to the Jadhav case. To date, it has not made public the specifics of the crimes he is accused of.
We have no way of knowing why Pakistan has acted in the way it has done. Civil-military tensions and retaliatory action against the alleged abduction of a Pakistani officer are plausible enough propositions, but so far unsupported by evidence. This we do know: In December, Pakistan’s de-facto foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, had said there was “insufficient evidence” in the Jadhav case; the country had promised to issue a dossier once it was available. The dossier is yet missing. Instead, there is a death sentence. The eagerness to convict and punish stands in stark contrast with Pakistan’s utter unwillingness to act against internationally-proscribed perpetrators of terror, like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed or Masood Azhar.
This ought not, sadly, surprise us. The handling of the Jadhav case is an inexorable outcome of a paranoiac state where the civilian leadership has allowed the generals to seize effective authority. Ever since 2015, when Pakistan empowered military courts to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, at least 161 death sentences have been awarded — in some cases, to children — in closed-door trials. In a damning study, the International Commission for Jurists said these military courts had kept secret even basic information on “the specific charges and evidence against the convicts, as well as the judgments of [the] military courts, including the essential findings, legal reasoning, and evidence”. For there to be normalcy in India-Pakistan relations, democracy must find its bearings again in that country. Meanwhile, the crises, it must be hoped, do not congeal into a calamity.