NEW DELHI, INDIA - India has warned Pakistan to consider the consequences on bilateral relations if a death sentence handed to a former naval officer by a Pakistani military court is carried out and said it will do “whatever it takes” to ensure justice for him.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke in the upper house of parliament Tuesday after lawmakers demanded justice for Kulbhusan Jadhav, an Indian national who has been found guilty of espionage and sabotage in Pakistan, but who New Delhi maintains is innocent.
Calling the verdict against Jadhav “indefensible,” Swaraj said he had been sentenced on “concocted charges. I repeat, on concocted charges.”
The Indian foreign minister also said, “If anything, he is the victim of a plan that seeks to cast aspersions on India to deflect international attention from Pakistan’s well known record of sponsoring and supporting terrorism.”
“I would caution the Pakistani government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter,” she said.
The Pakistan government Tuesday defended the death sentences awarded to Jadhav, however, and dismissed assertions that if he is executed India will regard it as a “premeditated murder.”
“We have followed all the rules and regulations and laws of the land,” Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told the parliament while delivering a policy statement on the issue.
Asif reiterated that the condemned Indian naval officer was operating a terrorism network in Pakistan at the behest of Indian state and anyone involved in such activities to destabilize the country will meet the same fate.
The minister explained that Jadhave has 60 days to challenge the verdict in a appellate military court before filing mercy petitions to the army chief and president of Pakistan respectively.
Both countries have given conflicting accounts of how the Indian national came into the custody of Pakistani authorities.
India has maintained since Jadhav’s arrest that he was kidnapped in Iran, where he was doing business and taken to Pakistan.
Minister Swaraj said that since Islamabad repeatedly turned down consular access to him, “the exact circumstances are unclear.”
Islamabad has said Jadhav was arrested in March of last year in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province, alleging he had been tasked by India’s foreign intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, “to plan, coordinate and organize espionage-sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan.”
After Jadhav’s arrest, Islamabad released a confessional video in which he was shown admitting his involvement in spying. India has questioned the alleged confession, saying it was extracted under duress.
Calling him India’s son, Swaraj said New Delhi will bring him back at any cost.
She reiterated in parliament what India told the Pakistani high commissioner soon after the sentence was announced on Monday – that if carried out, the sentence will be tantamount to an act of premeditated murder.
The latest spat between the nuclear-armed neighbors has fueled tensions that have been running high since an attack by armed militants on an Indian army camp in September of last year. New Delhi also accuses Pakistani-based militant groups for a surge of violence in Indian Kashmir, which has witnessed violent protests.
Indian officials told media that they have put on hold the release of a dozen Pakistani prisoners who were to be repatriated this week, apparently in retaliation for the death sentence handed down to Jadhav.