[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] P [/yt_dropcap]akistan’s military has sentenced an Indian Naval officer to death on charges of espionage and sabotage. In a statement, the army said Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was arrested in March 2016, was an Indian intelligence official who aided and financed “terrorist” activities in the southwestern Balochistan province and the southern port city of Karachi.
“Today, the Army Chief of Pakistan, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has confirmed his death sentence,” a military statement said on Monday, 10th April 2017, without stating when the execution would take place. Pakistan’s Army has also released a video shortly after his arrest in which he confessed to have spent years sowing unrest in Pakistan and being tasked by India’s intelligence service with planning, coordinating and organizing espionage and sabotage activities in Balochistan in an aim to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan. On the contrary, India has labeled the Pakistan’s decision to hand death sentence to alleged spy as ‘premeditated murder’. While the two governments have been trading barbs over the issue since Monday, it is important to analyze the reasons and the implications of the death sentence handed out by the Islamabad to alleged Indian spy.
First, it is important to note that Jhadav has been convicted by a military tribunal. The military courts that operate under the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Branch of the Pakistan Army were established soon after the December 2014 massacre of more than 150 people, most of them schoolchildren, at an army-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar. In January 2015, Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Husain signed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and the Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015 into law to make the military courts function till January 2017. The purpose of these military courts is to conduct speedy trials of the 34000 terrorists “who claim, or are known, to belong to any terrorist group or organization misusing the name of religion or a sect”. In March 2017, the lower house of Parliament of Pakistan voted to renew the mandate for military courts to try civilian “terrorism” suspects for a further two years. Since the renewals of the mandate, the death sentence of Jhadav has been considered as the most controversial decision by the Pakistan’s military courts.
While the speedy trials of terrorists through military courts in Pakistan have been considered pivotal for culminating terrorist activities, the role of new Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has been considered equally crucial in this. Bajwa, who was appointed as Chief of Army Staff in November 2016, is considered to be stringent towards terrorists and seems to believe in the concept of the “purge” of terrorists and militants. The latest examples of these are, the killing of ten terrorists including the Lahore’s Mall road blast main facilitator Anwarul Haq in an encounter with Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) personnel in Manawan earlier this month. What interesting to note is that Haq had been under CTD custody since February and was being taken to the suburban area of Lahore for recovery of explosives when nine of his accomplices ambushed the CTD team. There might be a chance that this whole incident is an apocryphal act set up to kill Haq in order to avoid the lengthy trial procedure to convict him as a terrorist. Another incident from the first week of April that is worth noting is the killing of most wanted terrorists in another encounter with CTD at Sukkur. These terrorists are said to be the members of Naeem Bukhari faction of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and was involved in several militant attacks including the ones on Karachi airport, Mehran Base attack and the killing of SP Chaudhary Aslam. Again the on-spot killing of these terrorists rather than the conviction through the trial process has been indicating the new mindset of the Pakistani Army.
Not only this, the concept of the operation “Radd ul Fassad”, initiated by General Bajwa to extricate the terrorism from not only North Waziristan but also from Punjab and Sindh etc. reflects the very thinking of the belief in speedy trials and purge concept by the current Pakistan Army’s officials. So, the current decision of the military courts to execute the alleged Indian spy has also been a representative of the same mindset of the current top army administration of Pakistan.
However, this is not the first time in the history of Pakistan, that an Indian national has been alleged as a spy and is sentenced to death. Sarabjit Singh (alleged to be Manjit Singh by Pakistan) was an Indian national convicted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for a series of bomb attacks in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 bystanders in 1990. After the trial in the Lahore High Court (later directed to the Supreme Court), he was condemned and sentenced to death in 1991, but the sentence was repeatedly postponed by the Government of Pakistan. Therefore, General Bajwa might want to be sure that their criminal gets the penalty this time.
The protagonists of the Jhadav’s death sentence in Pakistan, links it to the Ajmal’s Kasab’s death sentence, explicating and endorsing the same fate of a traitor no matter in which country he/she transgresses. It might be the case that this bold step has been taken to retribute the killing of an alleged spy with the same act. However, an important thing to notice is that despite the striking similarity between both the cases, there are two very substantial differences that disparate both the cases; first, India has accepted that Jhadav is an Indian national, whereas, Pakistan never accepted Kasab to be it’s national and didn’t respond to Indian decision of hanging Kasab even after his execution, positing its non-affiliation with Kasab, and nonchalance to his execution. Second, it has been repeatedly stated in Indian newspapers these days, that despite the vastitude of hatred towards Kasab in India, Indian courts gave a fair and lengthy trial to him while Jhadav is not even given consular access to communicate the allegations convicted against him by the Pakistani authorities.
Another important reason for the death sentence has been Pakistan’s efforts to adumbrate the presence and involvement of Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the restive and underprivileged province of Balochistan and to militarize the Baloch rebels in a bid to destabilize the key province of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. But Pakistan knows that it’s protests on different international platforms about Indian interventions in Balochistan have always been shrouded with Indian cutting retorts of Pakistan’s role to militarize the Kashmiri people in Kashmir against India. So, chances are that with Jhadav’s death sentence, Pakistan has not only claimed to register the presence of malignant foreign interventions in Balochistan but has also given a strong signal that such activities will not be tolerated by the country. Now, with the conviction of death sentence of Jhadav, India has not only to save its citizen from death penalty but also has to its image of not being the meddlesome actor in Balochistan.
Since the announcement of the death sentence of Jhadav, the newspapers in India and Pakistan have been brimming with the headlines of the implications of the death sentence in enfeebling the India-Pakistan subtle relations. While there is no Foreign Relations Minister of Pakistan to comment on the matter, Sartaj Aziz, the de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs has said that this incident will have precarious consequences for the India-Pakistan bilateral relations. The two-days late response on the hot issue by the Government of Pakistan in the form of State Minister of Information, Maryam Aurangzeb’s Press Conference highlights the shirk of responsibilities by the government. While Miss Aurangzeb endorsed the court’s conviction of death sentence, she failed to give an unequivocal answer to the question of the role of this conviction in minatory endings to the bilateral relations. India’s refusal to repatriate a dozen of Pakistani prisoners following this conviction is the first inclination that the hope of improved relations between both the countries is wilting away.
Various Foreign Policy experts like Lalit Mansingh and Shashi Tharoor considers that this decision by the Pakistan’s army is to insinuate India that it is in a bellicose mood. These inimical policies might imbue India to take these signals seriously and to prepare for the war. They also believe that by handing down a death sentence to Jadhav, Pakistan’s powerful military has sent a message to the civilian government that it should restrain from forging closer ties with India.
The current torrid situation between both the countries is a serious challenge for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi who vowed three years ago to bury the hatchet and steer their countries on the path of mutual cooperation and trust. Modi made the first move by inviting Sharif to attend his oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi. Sharif reciprocated Modi’s friendly gesture and went to the Indian capital in May 2014 with a “message of peace.” Experts said it was an unprecedented step by a Pakistani leader to engage with a Hindu nationalist like Modi on such a high-level.
There were high hopes for the improvement of bilateral relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian countries. Like Modi, Sharif, too, had business interests in mind, and he believed that friendly ties with a country set to become an economic giant in the next ten years would also boost Pakistan’s failing economy.
But after Uri-attack and the recent Jadhav’s death sentence, it will be more difficult than ever for Modi and Sharif to defuse tension and engage in peace talks again. But peace activists in both countries say the two premiers need to de-escalate tension and not let the Jadhav sentencing harm ties. If they fail, the hawkish elements in their countries would succeed.