Shahid M Amin
THE announcement on April 10, 2017 by a Pakistani military court awarding death sentence to Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Yadav, an Indian spy, has brought Indo-Pakistan relations to a new low. The Indian government, political leaders of all hues and Indian media are spewing anti-Pakistan venom, along with dire threats, to vent their shock at the sentencing of Yadav. So, what is going to happen next in relations between the two unfriendly neighbours? Spying and sabotage are not uncommon in international relations, particularly involving two unfriendly countries. But this case of Indian espionage has certain notable features.
Yadav was the highest-ranking Indian spy arrested by Pakistan. He is a serving officer of Indian Navy (serial 41558Z), whose services were acquired by RAW, the Indian intelligence agency. He possessed an Indian passport with fake Muslim name, Hussein Mubarak Patel, and was based in Chabahar in Iran since 2003, from where he carried out espionage activities in Pakistan. (How Iran allowed such activities is another cause for worry.) Yadav was arrested on March 3, 2016 by Pakistani authorities in Mashkel, Balochistan. He made a full confession of his espionage activities in various places in Pakistan and gave names of his Pakistani accomplices. A video of his confession has been played on television, where he is seen relaxed and even smiling, with no sign of any kind of coercion. Yadav confessed his guilt both before a Magistrate and the court, that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organise espionage and sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan. His trial was conducted through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under Section 59 of Pakistan Army Act of 1952 and Section 3 of Official Secrets Act of 1923. Yadav was found guilty of all the charges and given the death sentence, which was confirmed by Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Espionage and subversion are crimes that are punishable by death in many countries. Yadav’s confession itself was sufficient for the death sentence but, in addition, his Pakistani accomplices corroborated the evidence against him. Hence, the death verdict should not have come as a surprise to anyone. But India has reacted with fury. If anything, it is an over-reaction. Without putting forward any evidence of its own, India has contested all aspects of the case. The Indian government has claimed that Yadav was “kidnapped” from Iran and brought into Pakistan. But where is the evidence for this claim? The Indian Foreign Ministry has dubbed the the trial in Pakistan as “farcical” and warned that if the death sentence were carried out, India would consider it to be “premeditated murder.” But the fact is that Yadav was tried in a lawful court and he was given legal assistance for his defence.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated in parliament that Pakistan should keep in mind “the consequences” of carrying out the death sentence. “Our position is very clear: there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Kulbhushan Yadav,” she declared. How she reached this conclusion defies all logic. What about Yadav’s own recorded confession, his presence in Pakistan and the fake passport he was carrying? Was that not “wrongdoing”? In fact, the Indian government violated international norms by issuing a Passport to Yadav under the fictitious name of Hussein Mubarak Patel, to enable him to move around freely in Muslim-majority Iran and Pakistan. Photocopy of Passport No. L9630722 dated 12-05-2014 issued at Thane has been released to the media.
In a threatening tone, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that Indian government “will do whatever it takes to ensure his (Yadav’s) life is saved.” This too looked like a threat to Pakistan. Other Indian politicians were more bellicose. One threatened to break Pakistan in four pieces and another wanted that India to openly support the secession of Balochistan. This is total violation of international norms. India should also not forget that two sides can play the same game. Pakistan can retaliate by supporting separatists in Punjab and elsewhere in India.
What is much more serious and disturbing is the recklessness of Indian warnings and threats to Pakistan, which is a nuclear power, having missiles that can hit any part of India. A confrontation with Pakistan can develop into a nuclear war that can destroy both countries. The death of Yadav or his release are trivial matters when compared with the horrors that an Indo-Pakistan war can wreak. Indian leaders need to show the greatest sense of responsibility before issuing such threats to Pakistan. The same sense of responsibility and restraint is needed in Pakistan. Here, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this week again extended a hand of friendship to India. In the case of Yadav’s trial also, Pakistani officials have pointed out that he can appeal against his sentence in the relevant court and could file mercy petitions as well. Pakistan’s reasonable stance will be further reinforced if proceedings of Yadav’s trial are made public, including admissions of his Pakistani collaborators. Such transparency would make a dent on Indian public opinion, expose the mala fides of Indian govt, and secure us support internationally.
India has been complaining about lack of consular access to Yadav. Such access was never given e.g. by USA to prisoners interned in Guantanamo accused of terrorism. Yadav’s crimes were no less grave. Thousands of Pakistanis have languished in Indian jails over the years for minor offences, without consular access being given to Pakistan Embassy. Nevertheless, the correct position in International Law is that such access should be given to the Embassy of a country whose nationals are jailed or tried. Islamabad would be well advised to do so in the case of Yadav also, particularly now that his trial is over.
In diplomacy, positions should be kept flexible. Decisions should be made on the basis of hard calculation of national interests, and not on emotions. If India is so pushed about Yadav, we can use it as a lever to make India show accommodation on some other issue of interest to us. This is a situation where quiet diplomacy should take place instead of grandstanding, always remembering that peace is the paramount need of both countries.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.