On April 10, 2017, a former Indian Navy officer national Kulbhushan Yadav was given the death sentence by a by an its Field General Court Martial under provisions of the Pakistan Army Act and the Official Secrets Act. Yadav can appeal the death sentence to Pakistan’s Supreme Court within 60 days. H was convicted for espionage, anti-state activities, role in terror incidents and sabotage in the country. Yadav was taken into custody by Pakistani agencies in March 2016 in Balochistan. Diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan plunged following Yadav’s conviction, with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj warning Islamabad of “consequences” if Yadav’s death sentence was carried out.
Yadav had admitted before the court that he worked for the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). He was involved in several clandestine activities to create instability in Karachi and Balochistan areas. During the trial, he was provided the services of a defending officer, as per law. India responded to this verdict by calling Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit to the Ministry of External Affairs and gave him a demarche saying that the court proceedings that led to the death sentence of Yadav were “farcical” and it would consider it as “premeditated murder’. It also said that the ministry had “repeatedly sought” consular access to Yadav but was not permitted by the Pakistani authorities. A day after India called conviction of Yadav in Pakistan a ‘farcical trial’, the United Nations declined to take a position on the death sentence handed to the self-confessed Indian spy. India denied Yadav was working for RAW but admits that he is a retired naval officer.
India was expected to take up the matter when the U.S. National Security Advisor McMaster visits India to meet PM Narendra Modi, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. Doval was said to be preparing to raise the matter with his counterpart. The United Nations have already made it clear that it will not intervene in the matter, The Indian government has been arguing it was difficult for India to verify Pakistan’s claims that Yadav, a serving Indian Naval officer on an alleged spying mission entered Pakistan with original Indian passport.
Pakistan too was in no hurry to execute him and was likely to put him as a bargain to seek advantage in bigger negotiations.
As expected, Indian reaction was immediate and intense. There was fierce criticism of the verdict in the Indian media. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif quickly announced that the death sentence against Yadav will not and cannot be carried out quickly. Meanwhile, it was reported that a retired Pakistani military officer in Nepal had disappeared which suggested that the spy wars between India and Pakistan had intensified. Certainly, the issue had to be handled calmly for the sake of normal relations between India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif played it cool, addressing an Air Force passing-out parade, said: “Cooperation rather than conflict and shared prosperity instead of suspicion are the hallmarks of our policy.” National Security Adviser and former Army general Nasser Khan Janjua, too, said India and Pakistan “cannot be enemies forever and must engage in dialogue to resolve disputes.” But Modi is heavily into populism based on hatred of Muslims and will not budge, especially as global politics is veering toward a new cold war between the U.S. and China in South and Southeast Asia. Helplessly, the Pakistan-India spy war will go on, hurting the future of the people living in the region.
An editorial “Reducing Pak-India tensions” published in the Dawn on April 13th, 2017 argued that for four years now. Nawaz Sharif had expounded the same message of regional integration, trade and prosperity, but he had been incapable of convincing either India or the security establishment here. The National Security Adviser too has been “ineffective, notwithstanding the occasional willingness to speak candidly”. Meanwhile, Pakistan still did not have a Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister was “effectively irrelevant” because he had the foremost responsibility to tackle the electricity crisis as he is the minister of power as that was his main portfolio. The teams advising the Premier on both national security and foreign policy work on ad hoc basis. From that self-created position of weakness, it is unlikely Mr. Sharif will have much success in implementing the vision he so often articulates.
To complicate matters, Lt Col (retd) Muhammad Habib Zahir went missing from Nepal on April 6. The Foreign Office on Thursday hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agencies behind the abduction of a retired Pakistani colonel in Nepal. The media was abuzz with speculation that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) abducted the retired lieutenant colonel as a retaliatory act to the conviction of Kulbhushan Yadav. Observers believe India could use the abducted Pakistani retired army officer as a bargaining chip for the RAW agent.
Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said India would go to any extent to ensure safety for Yadav, calling Pakistan’s verdict ‘premeditated murder’. India would not leave any stone unturned to ensure safe release of Yadav. Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on April 13, 2017 informed the Senate that due process was followed in the trial of the serving Indian naval officer, who has 60 days to appeal the verdict.
On April 13, 2017, the Pakistan Army’s corps commanders agreed during a meeting at the army GHQ that there would be no concessions made in Yadav’s death penalty because the man was convicted of serious offences against the state of Pakistan. The Foreign Office has also made it clear that there was irrefutable evidence against Yadav and his role in terrorist activities as well as financing those activities on the soil of Pakistan. For a man who was initially disowned by his own countrymen, Yadav had suddenly become somewhat of a cause celebre. Why else would 13 requests for consular access be made by the Indian diplomatic mission here if there was no connection between Yadav and his handlers? Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria had explained that though New Delhi and Islamabad have a bilateral agreement on consular access, it is Pakistan’s prerogative to refuse the same in the name of Article VI of the accord.
Meanwhile, media reported that there were 27 Pakistanis arrested for espionage
Most of the spies caught by the intelligence agencies have been apprehended from either military sensitive locations or in border towns. On April 14, 2017 India decided to put on hold all bilateral exchanges with Pakistan in reaction to the Yadav affair. The Indian government called off talks between the two neighboring countries on maritime security which was scheduled to be held on April 17. India officially told Pakistan that it was not ready to host a delegation from Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA). Both Pakistan and India had earlier approved dialogue between PMSA and the Indian Coast Guard in a bid to break the deadlock caused by a militant attack on an Indian military base in Uri in September last year.According to the Indian Defense Ministry, it was not the time to discuss security with Pakistan when it had awarded the death sentence to Yadav. The only engagement that Pakistan and India have had until now this year has been the 113th meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission talks for which an Indian delegation visited Islamabad in March this year.
“As Pakistan stiffened its stance on the death sentence handed out to Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav in the wake of threats by officials in New Delhi that the move would carry severe repercussions for Islamabad, there are mounting suspicions that hostile agencies are behind the recent abduction of a retired Pakistani serviceman in Nepal. …. Aggravating already fraught relations between India and Pakistan is the appearance of wild speculation in the Indian media about the alleged link between Yadav’s case and the disappearance of Pakistani ex-serviceman Habib Zahir. Indian media outlets have claimed that Zahir had been part of the team that captured Yadav. The truth, however, is that Zahir retired from military service several years before Yadav’s arrest. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the Research and Analysis Wing or some such hostile agency may have entrapped him and kept him in its custody for leverage in the Yadav case. Instead of relying on legal and diplomatic measures, New Delhi appears to be working on some hidden fronts as usual.”
On April 14, 2017, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz shared with media the state’s charge sheet against Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav and a timeline of his trial. Aziz told a press conference that Yadav had been held responsible for the following terrorist activities in Pakistan:
“Sponsored and directed IED and grenade attacks in Gwadar and Turbat; directed attacks on a radar station and civilian boats in the sea opposite to Jiwani Port; funded subversive secessionist and terrorist elements through hawala/hundi for subverting Pakistani youth against the country, especially in Balochistan; sponsored explosions of gas pipelines and electric pylons in Sibi and Sui areas in Balochistan; sponsored IED explosions in Quetta in 2015, causing massive damage to life and property; sponsored attack on Hazaras in Quetta and Shias en route to and back from Iran; and abetted attacks through anti-state elements against LEAs, FC and FWO in areas of Turbat, Punjgur, Gawadar, Pasni and Jiwani during 2014-15, killing and injuring many civilians and soldiers.”
On the occasion, Aziz also asked why Yadav had been carrying official documents under an alias at the time of his arrest. “I would like to ask India why he [Yadav] was using a fake identity and masquerading as a Muslim,” Aziz asked. “Why would an innocent man possess two passports — one with a Hindu name and other with a Muslim name,” he asked.
Reassuring critics that steps had been taken to ensure transparency during the trial of the Indian spy under Pakistan’s laws and the Pakistan Army Act, Aziz also provided a timeline of the trial and proceedings against Yadav.
Indian external affairs minister V. K. Singh had reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Yadav. The case of Kulbhushan Yadav continues to remain at a boiling point. While India has postponed talks between the coast guards, Pakistan is apparently compiling a new dossier for the international community on the Indian national accused of being a RAW spy. While Pakistan has not yet given a copy of the judgement, it will apparently be part of a new dossier on Yadav, which will be handed over to the United Nations and ambassadors in Islamabad, Pakistani newspaper The Nation reported. The new dossier was to be based on the early testimonial as well as statements given in front of the court by Yadav. Pakistan had collected “fresh evidences on Indian involvement inside Pakistan to spread anarchy and militancy, sources stated,” according to the report. Meanwhile, external affairs minister V. K. Singh reiterated that the Indian government was considering all steps to get access to Yadav. “Pakistan government has denied consular access to Yadav despite India trying for 13 times. We are trying everything to get access to Yadav,” he told reporters. Meanwhile, there has not been any statements from India or Pakistan on April 15, 2017 about the retired Pakistan army soldier, who reportedly went missing near the India-Nepal border two days before Yadav’s death sentence was publicly revealed. Pakistan officials had pointed fingers at India saying that he had been “lured” by foreign intelligence agencies, but Indian diplomats – in Delhi and in Islamabad – have told the media that they don’t have any information.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia said on April 14, 2017 that “India should bomb Pakistan to secure the release of ex-navy officer Kulbhushan Yadav and carpet bomb Kashmiri “jihadis” to stop the spread of militancy…Our government should show similar resolve of India First by bombing Pakistan, which is barely 800 km from New Delhi and securing the Indian soldier’s release,”.
Meanwhile, the law-enforcement authorities of Azad Kashmir, Pakistan claimed to have arrested three Indian intelligence agents for alleged anti-state activities on April 13, 2017. The charges levelled against the three “Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruits” included bombing a police station in the region. The three have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and Explosives Act. 
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s defense minister has tried to assure that the death sentence of Yadav was not carried out without due process. He has made an appeal for amnesty to the president. The Indian media had most predictably hit the roof. Mohammad Waseem, in his article. “Political temperature on the rise, The News, April 16, aptly stated that: 
Diplomacy in a political environment characterized by vitriol of the worst kind emanating from the two sides of the spectrum is bound to suffer. On a larger scale, the world opinion has yet to give its final verdict… One can only hope for a deft handling of the issues at hand whereby peace and harmony, instead of tension and confusion, emerge as milestones of political strategy at home and foreign policy abroad.
On April 16, 2017 Pakistan stated that a dossier on Kulbhushan Yadav’s involvement in espionage will be handed over to foreign envoys in Pakistan. The dossier will also be sent to the UN and other institutions. Sources said details about Indian interference in Pakistan, Yadav’s involvement in sabotage and subversive activities in Pakistan were added in the dossier. Talking to state-run media, Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said India was involved in spreading terrorism in Pakistan. He said India was also involved in terror financing activities in the country. To a question, he said barbaric activities against innocent Kashmiris in the Indian-held Kashmir had been exposed. To another question regarding Col (r) Habib Zahir, he said the Nepalese government was cooperating with Pakistan in this matter.
India was looking to mount yet another diplomatic offensive to save Yadav and the government was awaiting a response from Pakistan over its demand for a copy of the charge sheet against Yadav as it mulled options to secure his release. The government was contemplating a move like the one it launched last year after the Uri attack to “isolate” Pakistan. As a first step, India blocked maritime security dialogue between the two countries. This was the first move by the Indian government to raise the stakes for Pakistan after the Yadav sentencing as it suggested that the two countries could be returning to the situation which prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the Uri attack last year in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed. Pakistan had consistently maintained that the two governments need to start the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, as announced in December 2015, to resolve outstanding issues. The maritime talks, coupled with meetings mandated by Indus Waters Treaty, were a small beginning by both the countries to move on after the bitter exchanges over Uri. The Indian government was also likely to review its attempts in the past few months to encourage people to people contacts with Pakistan.
Are India and Pakistan heading towards possibly the nastiest crisis in South Asia since the Mumbai terrorist incident of 2008? By Barkha Dutt, in her article “Pakistan’s move to execute alleged Indian ‘spy’ may be a ploy to sabotage the prime minister”, The Washington Post, April 16, 2017 maintained that:
In any case, whether Yadav is a spy is moot. What is beyond dispute is that the Pakistan Army’s declaration of a death sentence for him via a clandestine court-martial breaks with all standard practice; it is almost an open invitation to escalation from India…. … “The timing and manner of announcement of the Yadav decision indicates that it is either a bargaining chip to exchange someone in India’s custody or is meant to deter the country’s civilian prime minister from any new initiatives to mend fences with India,” …. Like all seasoned practitioners of statecraft, he knows that Pakistan is unlikely to take things to a dangerous precipice with India over the arrest of a spy; the motive lies elsewhere. Another explanation: Pakistan wants to use Yadav as leverage to counter the aggressive global push by Delhi to isolate Islamabad as the perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism. But the Narendra Modi government has never gone by the conventional playbook on Pakistan. From dropping in to visit Nawaz Sharif on his birthday to surgical strikes across the line of control, the Indian prime minister has followed his own script of shock and awe on Pakistan, in both friendship and hostility. Pakistan’s move on the tactical chessboard may prove to be a gambit gone wrong if India decides to play back in kind.
India-Pakistani relations weren’t going well even before the Yadav affair. India’s dialogue process with Pakistan has been stalled since the attack on the Pathankot air force base in January 2016. Last month, India sent its officials to the meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission in Islamabad. During the meeting, World Bank officials had mooted that water resources secretaries could meet in Washington from April 10 -13 to find a resolution over the dispute mechanism. India, however, had conveyed its reluctance to accept those dates in March.
Indian interference in the affairs of Karachi wasn’t just baseless Pakistani propaganda, it was a fact. Uzair Jan Baloch, the notorious dacoit of Karachi’s Lyari, was arrested in January 2016 in Pakistan after a period of hiding outside the country. He will face a military court for “espionage activities, providing secret information regarding Army installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian intelligence officers) which is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923.”
A symbol of the criminalization of Karachi politics, Baloch belongs to the family of Rehman Dakait, the underworld boss of Karachi who was politically embedded in the Muhajir-Sindhi conflict that played out between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Uzair has confessed to an Iranian “connection” in the Baloch nationalist movement in restive Balochistan; hence implying an Indian “connection” as well. Lest one forgets, Iran has accused Pakistan of aiding Iranian Baloch who often target Tehran’s soldiers. Abdolmalik Rigi, who was hanged in an Iranian jail in 2010, was educated on the sly in Saudi-funded Madrassa Banuria in Karachi before he joined the killer Jundallah with Al Qaeda in Pakistan and began attacking inside Iran.
The “Indian connection” finally reduced MQM to a shell of its former glory in Karachi. The PPP too has been weakened by the ongoing military operation in the metropolis against its extortionists. Pakistan sees an “Indian hand” in the uprising in its Balochistan province.
There was apprehension that the matter had to be calmly tackled otherwise it would blow up in to a new crisis between the two estranged neighbors.
Clearly, Pakistan was unable to move towards any dialogue with India on any issue, including spy wars. Meanwhile, Pakistan had decided in principle not to accept any pressure on the issue. Most probably the Yadav affair would be settled with a deal of some sorts between India and Pakistan. Some concessions will be given by India in exchange of the spy being handing over to them in due time. It was just a matter of time when the trade took place. Pakistan did not want to escalate the already tense situation further. Despite the bravado, a deal would be made and Yadav would be freed soon.
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