ISLAMABAD (Dawn/ANN News Desk) - Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav handed the death sentence in Pakistan for spying, India calls it premeditated murder - relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours plunges to another low.
Pakistan said on Monday a military court has sentenced to death Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav for allegedly spying for India in its restive Balochistan province.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military's media wing, said a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) awarded the capital punishment and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had confirmed the death sentence.
Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016 reportedly in Balochistan's Mashkel area for "involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan", the ISPR said.
Jadhav was awarded the death sentence after trial for involvement in espionage and sabotage activities in Karachi and Balochistan.
"The spy was tried through Field General Court Martial 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 said.
The accused had been provided with a defending officer as per legal provisions. However, India's request for consular access had been turned down.
Jadhav's arrest drew an angry response from New Delhi – terming his arrest as “premeditated murder”.
Pakistan's High Commissioner to New Delhi Abdul Basit was summoned and handed over a demarche saying, "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."
Jadhav's death sentence is another blow to India-Pakistan relations which are already at its lowest.
India's Ministry of External Affairs in its statement claimed that "the proceedings that led to the sentence against Jadhav are farcical in the absence of any credible evidence against him".
The Indian authorities further claimed that they had repeatedly sought consular access to Jadhav. "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," reads the demarche.
A death sentence for an Indian in Pakistan isn't a first. In 1999, Sheikh Shamim was hanged for spying. However, none of the Pakistani spies held in India have been sentenced to death.
Jadhav was arrested after being accused of being a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent who was fuelling the Balochistan separatist movement and attempting to sabotage the US$46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, reports in the Indian media said.
Experts view the military's announcement about Jadhav's trial and prosecution as an unprecedented move, viewing it as a strong message to India as well as other foreign intelligence agencies.
Pak-India tensions simmer
Today's development comes at a time when tensions between Pakistan and India run high.
The past six months have seen a war of words between officials from the Indian and Pakistani governments.
Ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours worsened after India blamed Pakistan for an attack on an Indian military camp in Uri inside India-held Kashmir on September 18, 2016 where around 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
India alleged that Pakistan-backed terrorists were involved in the attack and initially claimed that weapons recovered from them bore Pakistani markings. However, this assertion was debunked by the Indian media itself, forcing the Indian DGMO to retract the claim.
Since then, frequent episodes of firing have been reported by the Pakistan military on the Line of Control. The escalation continued when India claimed it carried out "surgical strikes" across the control line on September 29, claims Pakistan rejected as baseless.
Certain sections of Indian media have reported that Pakistan has sentenced a former Indian naval officer to death. They also claimed that Jadhav possessing an Indian passport proves he is innocent as no "intelligence agency ever runs an agent in enemy territory with identity documents connecting him to the agency’s country".
Jadhav's earlier confessional statement was aired by then ISPR head Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, in which he admitted to involvement in terror activities in Balochistan and Karachi.
Terming the Indian spy's arrest a 'big achievement', Bajwa said at the time that Jadhav was directly handled by the RAW chief, the Indian National Security Adviser and the RAW 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, adding, "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," Bajwa had said, before going on to play a video of Jadhav confessing to Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) involvement in Balochistan separatist activities in Pakistan.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti speaking to DawnNews said he believes the decision is a good one. "There are foreign elements involved in terrorist activities in Balochistan," he claimed. "I believe this is a good decision."
Defence analyst Ikram Sehgal agreed with Bugti's view, saying, "What happened today was correct. He [Jadhav] confessed his crime, he had people killed... After due process, his punishment should be carried out. They [India] will deny that he was not a spy, but he accepted that he was a spy. He gave full details in his confession of his networks as well."
"Pakistan has sent a message that if somebody does such activities here, it will hand them severe punishment. Those operating against the state will face a similar fate," Sehgal added.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar also believes Jadhav's sentencing is "a good decision".