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12 April 2017 Editorial

 

12 APRIL 2017

Risky, ill-considered

Kulbushan Jadhav death sentence 

UPDATED: APRIL 11, 2017 23:38 IST

Pakistan's announcement on Kulbhushan Jadhav threatens to escalate bilateral tensions

Pakistan's sudden announcement on Monday that former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death by a Field General Court Martial is a development fraught with danger. It could lead to a rapid escalation in bilateral tensions that the region can ill afford. The trial, sentencing, and its confirmation by the Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, were carried out so secretly that the news took many in Pakistan as well by surprise. There are glaring holes in the procedures followed by Pakistan's government and military in the investigation and trial of Mr. Jadhav. His recorded confession that was broadcast at a press conference within weeks of his arrest in March 2016 appeared to have been spliced. At various points in the tape, and in the transcript of the confession made available, Mr. Jadhav contradicts his own statements, suggesting that he had been tutored. Even if the confession was admissible in a court of law, little by way of corroborative evidence has been offered by Pakistan to back up the claim that Mr. Jadhav, who was allegedly arrested in Balochistan last year, had been plotting operations against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's statement in Parliament detailing 13 requests by the government for consular access, and replies from the Pakistan government that made the access conditional on India cooperating in the investigation, further casts the procedures followed in a rather poor light. International human rights agencies too have criticised them. Mr. Jadhav must be allowed a retrial, preferably in a civil court and with recourse to appeal.

New Delhi must step up its responses in the matter, as it seems to have kept it on the backburner, confining itself to fruitless, repeated representations. India must also pursue the issue with Iran, where Mr. Jadhav is believed to have been based for more than a decade, and investigate how he was brought, by force or otherwise, into Pakistan. The timing of the announcement of the death sentence is also being seen in a spy versus spy context, with the recent disappearance of a former Pakistan Army officer in Nepal. These are matters best left to security agencies at the highest level, but the questions around Mr. Jadhav's arrest need to be dispelled. Moreover, this escalation highlights the consequences of the breakdown in the India-Pakistan dialogue process, limiting the channels of communication between the two governments to sort out matters in a sober manner. The government has stood fast on its decision to not hold bilateral talks after the Pathankot attack in January 2016, but this policy is hardly likely to bring the desired results when a man's life hangs in the balance. The Jadhav case requires a proactive three-pronged response from India: impressing on Pakistan that the death sentence must not be carried out, explaining to the international community the flawed trial process, and sending interlocutors to open backchannels for diplomacy for Mr. Jadhav's safe return home.

 

A prolonged protest

Bypolls in Kashmir

UPDATED: APRIL 11, 2017 23:39 IST

The by-elections in Kashmir were marked by a mix of indifference and violent anger

An election that isn't free is not fair either. With violence by political protesters marring the by-election in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, resulting in the lowest-ever voter turnout of around 7%, the Election Commission was left with no choice but to put off the by-election in Anantnag. After ignoring the advice of the Union Home Ministry against the conduct of elections in the Kashmir Valley, the EC had to perforce go by the report of the State administration that the law and order situation in Anantnag constituency was not conducive to holding of polls on April 12. Certainly, the EC is right in maintaining that it was not bound to consult the Union Home Ministry before deciding to conduct elections, but as demonstrated by subsequent events, the Centre had called this matter correctly. The security forces were unprepared for the scale of violence, and failed to ensure conditions for free, unrestricted polling. Whatever the reasons or provocations for the violence in Srinagar, which left eight people dead and more than 170 injured, the end result was that most voters chose to stay away from polling stations. One polling station was set afire; many were temporarily shut following attacks. Unlike a general election, where a change of government is possible, a by-election does not interest voters to any great degree. And, unlike in a general election protesters find it easier to disrupt the polling process in a by-election. For voters, the political stakes are low and the physical risks high. Whether they were too scared to vote or they heeded the calls for a boycott of the poll process, the by-election appeared like an elaborate farcical exercise that was robbed of all political legitimacy.

After the higher voter participation in recent years in the Valley, the way the Srinagar by-election unfolded is indicative of a dramatic slide in the political situation. The killing of Burhan Wani, a ‘commander' of the Hizbul Mujahideen, by security forces in July last year set off a new cycle of violence in Kashmir that does not seem to have ended to this day as stone-pelting is met with pellet guns. In these circumstances, by-elections may have no political meaning. In any case, without free re-polling in all the booths that witnessed violence, the result in this election counts for little. Ideally, re-polling in Srinagar too should be put off by a few weeks. But Kashmiris will also need a larger political motivation to go to the polling booths, a belief that they are in charge of their own lives and that their vote will count for something. Otherwise staying at home might seem the better option to facing the stones of protesters and the guns of security forces. Time alone will not heal wounds

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