The death sentence handed out to
Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired Indian naval officer, by a Pakistan Field General
Court Martial (FCGM) on charges of spying and sabotage activities in Karachi
and Balochistan has sent shock waves across the country. Even the staid Karachi
newspaper Dawn, not usually given to hyperbole called the death sentence
“unexpected,” while reporting the political reaction to the sentence.
According to Pakistan, Jadhav was
arrested during a counter intelligence raid by security forces near the border
area of Chaman in Balochistan when he illegally entered from Iran on March 3,
2016. He was using an Indian passport in the name of Mubarak Patel.
He was tried under Section 59 of the
Pakistan Army Act and Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act of 1923, charged
with spying for India, working against Pakistan’s integrity, sponsoring Balochi
terrorism in the country and attempting to destabilise the state.
India has clarified that Jadhav,
prematurely retired from the navy in 2003, had established a cargo business in
Chabahar port in Iran since then. Media reports have alleged that he was
kidnapped from Iran by Taliban and sold to Pakistan authorities.
The entire prosecution and trial
process, starting from the arrest of Kulbhushan to the trial and award of death
sentence by a military court, has been shrouded in secrecy. The legality of the
trial by military court itself is questionable. In January 2015, Pakistan
national assembly reluctantly approved the 21st constitutional amendment that
paved way for the military courts, after the then Army chief General Raheel
Sharif pressurized the members. They are a testimony to the hold Pakistan army
has over the civilian authorities.
Pakistan Supreme Court ruled in August
2015 that secret military courts were legal and could pass death sentences on
civilians. Nine military courts have been constituted to try such cases. By end
December 2016, the military courts have handed out death sentence to 161
persons accused of terrorism.
Pakistan’s case is built upon
information gleaned from his interrogation and on the basis of Jadhav’s “video
confession” recounting his work for India’s external intelligence arm - the
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - from 2013. The dubious “confession” from
Uzair Baloch, a notorious Lyari criminal gang leader of Karachi, who was
apprehended by the Rangers in Karachi in January 2016, states he was in contact
with Jadhav to create law and order situation in Karachi.
The Jadhav case appears to be tailored
to prove Pakistan’s claim of Indian involvement in three key areas: financial
and logistic support to Baloch insurgents, collusion with Haji Baloch, who
provided financial and logistic support to Baloch separatists and the Islamic
State in Karachi, and triggering sectarian violence in Karachi and Sindh.
Sartaj Aziz, advisor on foreign affairs
to the Pakistan prime minister, has said that Jadhav had been held responsible
for terrorist activities that include sponsoring attacks in Gwadar and Turbat,
attacks on a radar station and civilian boats in the sea opposite Jiwani Port,
funding subversive secessionist elements through hawala in Balochistan,
sponsoring explosions in gas pipelines and electric pylons in Sibi and Sui
areas in Balochistan, sponsoring IED explosions in Quetta, sponsoring attacks
on Hazaras in Quetta and Shias en route to Iran and back, and abetting
anti-state elements in attacks against law enforcement agencies in Balochistan
during 2014-15 killing many civilians and soldiers.
The Jadhav case has come handy for
Pakistan to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to internationally
isolate Pakistan for sponsoring terrorist attacks against India. In April 2016,
Pakistan briefed foreign diplomats in Islamabad on Jadhav’s arrest and his
involvement in terrorist activities. Pakistan also shared the information with
the US and the UK. Prime Minister Modi in his Independence Day address on
August 15, 2016 brought the focus on human rights violations in Balochistan. The
Jadhav case would buttress Pakistan’s argument that India was colluding with
Balochi separatists in the state.
India has pointed out a lot of
discrepancies in Pakistan’s statement on the case. After the death sentence was
announced, India summoned Pakistan High Commissioner in New Delhi and handed
over a demarche. It said “If this sentence against an Indian citizen, awarded
without basic norms of law and justice, is carried out, the government and the
people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder.” On April 14,
India asked for a copy of the formal charge sheet filed against Jadhav; Indian
High Commissioner in Islamabad has also made a request for consular access for
the 14th time.
Jadhav has 40 days to file an appeal
against the FGCM verdict in the military court of appeal. If that fails, he
would have the opportunity to seek mercy from the army chief and Pakistan’s
president. Of course, if he feels the due process of law was not observed
during the trial and his fundamental rights were affected, he could approach a
high court. But the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA), on April 14,
warned against taking up the case of Jadhav. It said action would be taken
against any lawyer who dares to obey its order.
Army channels of appeal are unlikely to
be productive if we go by the statements of Pakistan army chief. The corps commanders’
conference, the Deep State of Pakistan, has unanimously maintained that no
compromise would be made on the death sentence awarded to Kulbhushan
Presumably, the only way to save to
Jadhav would be through bilateral parleys. But given the dismal state of
relations between the two countries at present, it could be a long haul before
the contentious issue is resolved.
Will it be possible to swap Jadhav for
a Pak spy as Gary Powers, the US air force spy pilot shot down over Soviet
Union, was exchanged for Soviet spy Col Abel who was arrested in the U.S.? The
disappearance of Lt Col Muhammad Habib Zahir, a retired officer of the Pakistan
army, while visiting Lumbini in Nepal, recently has given rise to a lot of
media speculation that Indian intelligence might have kidnapped him for a tradeoff
International espionage cases are
always murky and messy because they are full of half-truths and lies. Only the
coming days will tell how both India and Pakistan tackle this issue. The defusing
of a potentially explosive issue is likely to test the leadership skills in
both the countries.
The author, a retired MI officer,
served as head of Intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to
90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies.
2008-2013©copyright, All Rights Reserved. Vijayvaani Publishers.
Back to Top