The Pakistani military court’s order, handing out death sentence to former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav on espionage charges, smacks of arbitrariness typical of Kangaroo courts. The brazenness with which the Field General Court Martial (FGCM) handled the case reflects its utter disregard for the established international norms and practices. It is clear that the trial was farcical and the verdict was pronounced without examining the evidence objectively and judiciously. The inconsistencies in the case are too glaring to ignore. Despite repeated requests by India, consular access was denied to Jadhav in a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention. While Jadhav was picked up from Iran in March last year, there was no explanation given as to why his arrest was shown to have occurred in Balochistan. The 46-year-old retired Navy officer is a valid Indian passport holder. More intriguingly, Sartaz Aziz, the high-profile advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister on foreign affairs, had stated in the Senate in December last year that there was no sufficient evidence against Jadhav. One wonders what compelling evidence could have emerged within a few months for the military court martial to convict Jadhav of spying and sabotage activities. Some Pakistani observers view the verdict as a ploy by the military establishment to put Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a fix and question the civilian supremacy. After conducting a ridiculously opaque trial, the court charged Jadhav with being a R&AW agent fuelling the Baloch separatist movement and attempting to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
It is unusual for an Indian national to be court-martialed by a Pakistani Army court. The usual practice in the past was to try the suspects in the normal courts. Significantly, no Pakistani national has ever been sentenced to death in India for spying. The unprecedented action by the military court will further exacerbate the tensions between the two countries. Islamabad must realise that the political and diplomatic fallout of this reckless action could prove costly. India has dispatched a strongly-worded demarche saying the death sentence, if carried out, would be viewed as “premeditated murder”. New Delhi has rightly put on hold the release of several Pakistani prisoners, scheduled this week. Parliament spoke in one voice with MPs, cutting across party lines, supporting the efforts of the government to save Jadhav from gallows. There is a need to send a strong message to Islamabad that the consequences of punishing an Indian national on the basis of concocted charges would be dangerous. India should also raise the matter at international level in view of the violation of the norms of Geneva Convention. The Amnesty International has also condemned the Pakistani military court’s order for riding roughshod over international standards.