NEW DELHI: India was seething with anger on Tuesday at the conviction of its self-confessed spy in Pakistan, with Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj warning Islamabad of ‘dire consequences’ for bilateral relations if it went ahead with the execution of what she called an ‘innocent man’.
Dimissing India’s blistering reaction, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that “due process of law had been followed while awarding the death sentence” to Kulbhushan Jadhav, an agent of India’s top intelligence agency, RAW, who was arrested in March 2016 in Balochistan on charges of spying and feulling terrorism in Pakistan.
Jadhav – who has already made a video confession of his crimes – was sentenced to death and the verdict was confirmed by army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Monday. “The spy was tried through Field General Court Martial under the Pakistan Army Act and awarded the death sentence,” the military said in a statement.
Swaraj didn’t mince her words while making a statement in both houses of Indian parliament on what the Indian media called a “highly emotive issue that has inflamed passions in India”. “The government and people of India would view very seriously the possibility that an innocent Indian citizen is facing the death sentence in Pakistan without due process and in violation of basic norms of law, justice and international relations,” she said.
She added that the Indian government “will go out of the way to save him [Jadhav]”. “I would caution the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter.”
She reiterated India’s stand that Jadhav has been framed under false charges, and added that Pakistan was doing all that to divert global attention from its activities of sponsoring terrorism in India. “There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Kulbhushan Jadhav… We have no choice but to regard this sentence if carried out as an act of premeditated murder,” she claimed.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, appealed to the government to appoint a strong lawyer who can fight Jadhav’s case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. “This is a matter of the entire nation. I appeal to the government to appoint a competent lawyer to fight his case in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, so that his case is won in the apex court,” said Azad.
The external affairs minister assured the house that the government would appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and would petition the president of the country to save “the son of the nation”. “Not just the Supreme Court… We will do everything possible to save him. Appealing in the Supreme Court or appointing a lawyer for him is a very small thing. We will even approach the president of Pakistan to save him,” said Sushma.
Defence Minister A K Antony termed the issue ‘very serious’ and said India “must convey it to Pakistan in the strongest terms”. He went much beyond than what Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had said a day ago in a demarche to Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit.
The Pakistan government sought “India’s assistance to obtain evidence and other materials for the investigation process” but to no avail. Both Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Jadhav.
However, Pakistan’s defence minister defended Jadhav’s conviction, saying that “due process of law had been followed while awarding the death sentence to the Indian spy”.
While addresing federal lawmakers in the upper house of parliament, Khawaja Asif refuting the Indian claims that the sentence was a premeditated murder. “The actions of Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir, Gujarat and in the case of Samjhota Express amount to ‘premeditated murder’,” he added.
“The law of the land is applied and the trial went on for three months,” Asif said, adding that under the law, an appellate tribunal can be moved against the sentence. “In the next stages, appeals can be filed with the army chief and the president of Pakistan.”
His comments were seconded by Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani who remarked that Pakistan has followed the due process of law in Jadhav’s case. “Had similar case happened in India, it would not have followed the due process of law” he added.