The Cable

India Calls Pakistan Death Sentence for Alleged Spy ‘Premeditated Murder’

India has admitted Kulbhushan Jadhav was an Indian Navy officer, but denies he was ever a spy.


Last year, Pakistan detained Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer, on suspicions of spying. On Monday, a military court sentenced him to death for espionage and sabotage.

The Indian government has acknowledged that Jadhav is an Indian citizen and a former Navy officer, but denies he is a spy. Pakistan released a video in which Jadhav admits he worked as a spy shortly after his arrest, which Pakistan says was in early March of last year. It is unclear under what conditions that filmed confession took place. 

India repeatedly requested consular access to Jadhav. Pakistan repeatedly denied those requests.

In a statement sent out Monday, India’s foreign ministry called the proceedings “farcical.” The statement said that Jadhav was kidnapped in Iran, and that “his subsequent presence in Pakistan has never been explained credibly.” It also said that the death sentence, if carried out, would constitute “premeditated murder.”

New Delhi also summoned Pakistani High Commissioner (essentially the Pakistani ambassador to India) Abdul Basit after learning of the sentence, presumably to convey outrage in person. Basit is expected to be replaced soon, perhaps by the current Pakistani ambassador to Turkey.

This is not the first time Pakistan has executed an alleged Indian spy. An Indian man was hanged after ten years in jail for spying in 1999. And an Indian national who had been on death row for 16 years for allegedly spying was killed by his fellow inmates in jail in 2016. India and Pakistan didn’t devolve into all out war then, and they’re unlikely to now. However, Pakistan is also, at present, accusing India of backing a separatist movement in Balochistan, and India accuses Pakistan of fomenting unrest in India-controlled Kashmir — it’s possible either situation or both could worsen as a result of this sentence.

Kashmir is a sore subject for India in another sense. China currently plans to have its route for the Chinese-Pakistani economic corridor cut through part of Kashmir to which India lays claim. India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried its own “pivot to the East,” both to deepen trade ties with southeast Asia, and to check China’s own moves westward. But it can’t turn its full attention to Beijing as long as the Pakistani albatross remains around its neck.

This isn’t the first diplomatic tit for tat between the two rivals. In early November last year, Pakistan withdrew several of its diplomats from India after they’d been suspected of espionage by India. Pakistan then leaked the names of several Indian diplomats who, it said, were sent to spy on Pakistan. All that followed several weeks of fighting in India-controlled Kashmir.

Photo credit: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

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