The decision of Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to confirm the death sentence handed by a military court on Monday to retired Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who Pakistan claims is a spy, speaks of confrontational behaviour by Islamabad. This puts the onus on India to summon a firm, clear-cut response. Bilateral ties have been frosty since late last year when this country conducted a so-called “surgical strike” across the Line of Control — which it widely publicised — in retaliation for a series of attacks on Indian military installations by anti-India terror squads in Pakistan that find official favour.
The first of these at the Pathankot airbase in January 2016 appeared calculated to end the goodwill accruing from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore just weeks earlier, on Christmas Day 2015, to greet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. With the Pakistan PM facing political heat and being hauled up in the courts over allegations pertaining to the Panama Papers on offshore tax havens, the Army, always ideologically ill-disposed toward India, has clearly taken full charge of the India relationship. India has said if Pakistan proceeds to execute the death sentence, it will be seen as “premeditated murder” as the “field general court martial” proceedings appear to have been a total farce. The former naval commander was held guilty on “all charges”, but the charges themselves were not communicated to the Indian government, that wrote in vain to Pakistan 13 times to be given consular access to its citizen.
The Pakistani military has said Mr Jadhav had confessed before a magistrate to being an agent of R&AW. If so, it is strange that he should be operating inside Pakistan with an Indian passport. Last December, the Pakistan PM’s foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, had informed the Pakistan Senate that the evidence against Mr Jadhav was “insufficient”, and the dossier being prepared on him to be circulated internationally amounted to a string of statements but not evidence. Giving the death sentence to spies, even if Mr Jadhav was one, has hardly been heard of, and that makes this case curious. The confirmation of the sentence by the Army Chief also indicates that the matter does not now admit of an appeal. Much may depend on India’s response.