In a rare move, a Field General Court Martial (FGCM) on Monday handed Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav the death sentence after trial for involvement in espionage and sabotage activities in Karachi and Balochistan.
Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, through a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan's Mashkel area for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
"The spy was tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) and awarded the death sentence. Today Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa confirmed his death sentence awarded by FGCM," the military's media wing said.
The accused had been provided with a defending officer as per legal provisions.
India terms it 'premeditated murder'
India summoned Pakistan's High Commissioner to New Delhi Abdul Basit and handed over a demarche saying, "If this sentence against an Indian citizen, awarded without observing basic norms of law and justice, is carried out, the government and people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder."
The India's Ministry of External Affairs in its statement claimed that "the proceedings that led to the sentence against Jadhav are farcical in the absence of any credible evidence against him".
The Indian authorities further claimed that they had repeatedly sought consular access to Jadhav. "Requests to that effect were formally made 13 times between March 25, 2016, and March 31, 2017. This was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities," reads the demarche.
What we know
Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav was arrested in March 2016 in Balochistan
He was sentenced to death by a Field General Court Martial
Jadhav confessed before the court that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organise subversive activities in Karachi, Balochistan
Jadhav was provided a defending officer as per legal provisions
Pakistan had, however, turned down India's request seeking consular access to Jadhav last year due to his involvement in "subversive activities" in Pakistan.
Experts view the military's announcement about Jadhav's trial and prosecution as an unprecedented move, viewing it as a strong message to India as well as other foreign intelligence agencies.
Jadhav was tried by the FGCM under Section 59 of the PAA and Section 3 of the official Secret Act of 1923, the statement said.
Jadhav confessed before a magistrate and court that he was tasked by Indian spy agency Research and Analysis wing to plan, coordinate and organise espionage and sabotage activities seeking to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan through impeding the efforts of law enforcement agencies for the restoration of peace in Balochistan and Karachi, the ISPR said.
Jadhav's earlier confessional statement was aired by then ISPR head Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, in which he admitted to involvement in terror activities in Balochistan and Karachi.
Terming the Indian spy's arrest a 'big achievement', Bajwa said at the time that Jadhav was directly handled by the RAW chief, the Indian National Security Adviser and the RAW joint secretary.
"His goal was to disrupt development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with Gwadar port as a special target," Bajwa had said, adding, "This is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism... There can be no clearer evidence of Indian interference in Pakistan."
"If an intelligence or an armed forces officer of this rank is arrested in another country, it is a big achievement," Bajwa had said, before going on to play a video of Jadhav confessing to Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) involvement in Balochistan separatist activities in Pakistan.
Future course of action
Dawn reported that Jadhav now has got 40 days to file an appeal against the FGCM in the army’s court of appeal, according to retired Col Inamur Rahim, a military law expert.
In case the appeal court upholds the FGCM verdict, Jadhav would have the opportunity to seek mercy from the army chief and the president of Pakistan.
Simultaneously, Col Inam said, the convict could approach a high court if he felt that due process was not observed during his trial and his fundamental rights as an accused were not fulfilled.
'Can diplomacy work?'
Leading Indian journalist Suhasini Haidar raised the question of how the sentencing may affect Pak-India ties. "With India-Pakistan relations at their lowest, wonder if diplomacy can work. Even US-Russia were able to conduct spy swaps during cold war," she said.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti speaking to DawnNews said he believes the decision is a good one. "There are foreign elements involved in terrorist activities in Balochistan," he claimed. "I believe this is a good decision."
Defence analyst Ikram Sehgal agreed with Bugti's view, saying, "What happened today was correct. He [Jadhav] confessed his crime, he had people killed... After due process, his punishment should be carried out. They [India] will deny that he was not a spy, but he accepted that he was a spy. He gave full details in his confession of his networks as well."
"Pakistan has sent a message that if somebody does such activities here, it will hand them severe punishment. Those operating against the state will face a similar fate," Sehgal added.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Asad Umar also believes Jadhav's sentencing is "a good decision".
Pak-India tensions simmer
Today's development comes at a time when tensions between Pakistan and India run high.
The past six months have seen a war of words between officials from the Indian and Pakistani governments.
Ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours worsened after India blamed Pakistan for an attack on an Indian military camp in Uri inside India-held Kashmir on Sept 18, 2016 where around 20 Indian soldiers were killed.
India alleged that Pakistan-backed terrorists were involved in the attack and initially claimed that weapons recovered from them bore Pakistani markings. However, this assertion was debunked by the Indian media itself, forcing the Indian DGMO to retract the claim.
Since then, frequent episodes of firing have been reported by the Pakistan military on the Line of Control. The escalation continued when India claimed it carried out "surgical strikes" across the control line on Sept 29, claims Pakistan rejected as baseless.
Certain sections of Indian media have reported prominently that Pakistan has sentenced a former Indian naval officer to death.
They also claimed that Jadhav possessing an Indian passport proves he is innocent as no "intelligence agency ever runs an agent in enemy territory with identity documents connecting him to the agency’s country".
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Jadhav had been sentenced by a military court, not the Field General Court Martial. The error is regretted.