ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI - A military court on Monday sentenced a high-profile Indian spy to death, ratcheting up longstanding tensions between the nuclear-armed states.

Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav was arrested in March 2016 in a counter intelligence operation from Mashkel area of Balochistan, which has seen a long-running insurgency allegedly with the active support from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.

The military said in a statement that Jadhav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel, originally a naval commander, had confessed to spying for Indian intelligence agency - Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Military’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said the sentence was passed by a Field General Court Martial and confirmed by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

It said the RAW agent was tried by FGCM under Section 59 of Pakistan Army Act (PAA)-1952 and Section 3 of Official Secret Act of 1923. The FGCM found Jadhav guilty of all the charges, ISPR added.

He confessed before a magistrate and the court that he was tasked by the Indian intelligence agency to plan, coordinate and organise espionage and sabotage activities aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the efforts of law enforcement agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest but least developed province which has been battling a separatist insurgency for years. Pakistan has repeatedly characterised it as “terrorism” promoted by hostile states such as India.

Karachi, a city of 20 million and Pakistan’s economic hub, is also frequently hit by religious, political and ethnic violence.

Jadhav had 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.

Indian reaction

India rejected Pakistan’s account of Jadhav’s activities and summoned Pakistan’s high commissioner besides issuing him a protest letter.

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.

New Delhi also claimed 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.

Pakistan rebuffs Indian claims

Pakistan rejected Indian assertions and said Jadhav’s sentencing was according to the law.

The ISPR and Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said that the accused was provided with defending officer as per legal provisions and all legal procedures were duly followed.

Khawja Asif said that Jadhav’s confession was a public document and if India raises the issue of his death sentence, Pakistan will give them a reply. “Jadhav came from the approval of the Indian government…there is no doubt that India is fuelling terrorism in Pakistan.”

Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit told Indian media after meeting officials of India’s Ministry of External Affairs that Pakistan has done nothing wrong in giving death sentence to a terrorist.

“You can’t sponsor terrorism and then

the sentence of terrorists. Nothing matters more than national security,”

The country’s national security is Islamabad’s utmost priority and “our desire for peace in the region must not be taken as our weakness”, he said.

No date set for execution

Authorities in Islamabad 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 Pakistani analyst Dr Hassan Askari the decision to execute Jadhav would “further increase tension between the two countries”.

“The military has given a severe punishment which is according to Pakistani law,” he said.

“But we will have to see if Pakistan can sustain the political and diplomatic fallout.”

Spying and separatism

As Pakistan accuses India of helping the separatist movement in Balochistan, India, for its part, says Pakistan aids separatist fighters in Kashmir. And, both the states reject these 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.

There have since been repeated outbreaks of cross-border firing, with both sides reporting deaths and injuries.

Pakistan denies backing militants saying it only offers political support to the Muslim people of Indian-controlled Kashmir which are facing terrorism at the hands of Indian occupying forces.

The arch-rivals routinely accuse each other of sending spies into their countries and it is not uncommon for either to expel diplomats accused of espionage, particularly at times of high tension.

However, death sentences have rarely been passed in such cases in recent years.

In 2013 an Indian sentenced to death for spying in Pakistan was killed in jail after being attacked by fellow inmates. Sarabjit Singh had been on death row for 16 years.

In 1999 another Indian, Sheikh Shamim, was hanged in a Pakistani jail almost ten years after he was caught “red-handed” near the border and arrested on charges of spying.

Previous cases have largely gone through civilian courts.

No mercy for terror-abettors

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif vowed that all constitutional force would be used against those acting against the sovereignty of Pakistan.

He said that the death sentence of Kulbhushan Jadhav should serve as a warning to those engaged in terrorism in Pakistan.

“Those plotting against Pakistan will not be spared,” Asif said in a statement.

The minister said, “Soldiers and civilians of Pakistan have given sacrifices for this country and their sacrifices demand us to give a befitting reply to terrorists and those who aid and facilitate them.”

According to the defence minister, the entire world had acknowledged Pakistan’s struggle against terrorism and the country was dealing with this menace from both the eastern and western front.