ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A Pakistani military court on Monday sentenced an Indian accused of espionage to death, ratcheting up longstanding tensions between the nuclear-armed states.
Pakistani authorities say Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav, a naval officer, was arrested in March 2016 in the turbulent province of Baluchistan, which has seen a long-running conflict between Pakistani security forces and a militant separatist movement.
The Pakistani military said in a statement he had confessed to being tasked by India’s intelligence service with planning, coordinating and organising espionage and sabotage activities in Baluchistan “aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan”.
The sentence was passed by a Field General Court Martial and confirmed by the powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
India rejected Pakistan’s account of Jadhav’s activities and summoned Pakistan’s high commissioner.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs described the proceedings leading to the sentence as “farcical” and said no credible evidence had been presented against Jadhav.
In a statement, India also said that Jadhav had been kidnapped in Iran and “his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly”. It said he had been denied access to Indian consular officials despite repeated requests.
“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,” it said.
Pakistani authorities did not say when the sentence would be carried out. Diplomatic manoeuvring, lengthy legal proceedings and the possibility of appeal could mean the case would be contested for years, an analyst said.
“Very often, they keep these guys on death row for years, if not decades, as bargaining chips,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
Sahni said there was “going to be a lot of posturing by both sides” but he doubted it would lead to any direct military action.
According to Pakistani authorities, Jadhav told judges last year that he was a naval officer who had started doing work for Indian intelligence following a 2001 attack on parliament that India blamed on militants backed by Pakistan.
Pakistan accuses India of helping the separatist movement in Baluchistan, a charge denied by India.
For its part, India says Pakistan aids separatist fighters in Kashmir, part of India’s only Muslim-majority state, which Pakistan also claims.
Last September, tension between the neighbours escalated after gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
Pakistan denies backing militants saying it only offers political support to the Muslim people of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Reporting by James Mackenzie, Douglas Busvine; Editing by Robert Birsel