Kulbushan Jadhav death sentence: Risky, ill-considered

Pakistan’s announcement on Kulbhushan Jadhav threatens to escalate bilateral tensions

Pakistan’s sudden announcement on Monday that former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death by a Field General Court Martial is a development fraught with danger. It could lead to a rapid escalation in bilateral tensions that the region can ill afford. The trial, sentencing, and its confirmation by the Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, were carried out so secretly that the news took many in Pakistan as well by surprise. There are glaring holes in the procedures followed by Pakistan’s government and military in the investigation and trial of Mr. Jadhav. His recorded confession that was broadcast at a press conference within weeks of his arrest in March 2016 appeared to have been spliced. At various points in the tape, and in the transcript of the confession made available, Mr. Jadhav contradicts his own statements, suggesting that he had been tutored. Even if the confession was admissible in a court of law, little by way of corroborative evidence has been offered by Pakistan to back up the claim that Mr. Jadhav, who was allegedly arrested in Balochistan last year, had been plotting operations against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in Parliament detailing 13 requests by the government for consular access, and replies from the Pakistan government that made the access conditional on India cooperating in the investigation, further casts the procedures followed in a rather poor light. International human rights agencies too have criticised them. Mr. Jadhav must be allowed a retrial, preferably in a civil court and with recourse to appeal.

New Delhi must step up its responses in the matter, as it seems to have kept it on the backburner, confining itself to fruitless, repeated representations. India must also pursue the issue with Iran, where Mr. Jadhav is believed to have been based for more than a decade, and investigate how he was brought, by force or otherwise, into Pakistan. The timing of the announcement of the death sentence is also being seen in a spy versus spy context, with the recent disappearance of a former Pakistan Army officer in Nepal. These are matters best left to security agencies at the highest level, but the questions around Mr. Jadhav’s arrest need to be dispelled. Moreover, this escalation highlights the consequences of the breakdown in the India-Pakistan dialogue process, limiting the channels of communication between the two governments to sort out matters in a sober manner. The government has stood fast on its decision to not hold bilateral talks after the Pathankot attack in January 2016, but this policy is hardly likely to bring the desired results when a man’s life hangs in the balance. The Jadhav case requires a proactive three-pronged response from India: impressing on Pakistan that the death sentence must not be carried out, explaining to the international community the flawed trial process, and sending interlocutors to open backchannels for diplomacy for Mr. Jadhav’s safe return home.

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