Nasir Jaffry in Islamabad and Charu Sudan Kasturi in New Delhi, TT, April 10: A Pakistani military court today awarded the death sentence to former Indian navy officer and alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, setting the stage for a fresh cycle of tit-for-tat acts that could reverse recent steps aimed at easing tensions.
Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar summoned Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit in the evening to hand over a demarche - a diplomatic protest note - calling the secret military trial "farcical". India denies that Jadhav is a spy.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military's publicity wing, had announced the death sentence from the garrison town of Rawalpindi.
"The spy has been tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under Pakistan Army Act and awarded death sentence. Today COAS (army chief), Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, has confirmed his death sentence," the military statement said.
Pakistan says Jadhav was arrested in Balochistan, after allegedly entering the country from Iran, on charges of spying for Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) early last year.
Officials claim that Jadhav has confessed to hiring a network of men to penetrate deep into Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan to carry out acts of terrorism.
"Indian RAW agent/naval officer, 41558Z Commander Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel, was arrested on March 3, 2016, through a counter-intelligence operation from Mashkel, Balochistan, for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan," the military statement said.
"Jadhav confessed before a magistrate and the court that he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organise espionage/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."
It added: "The FGCM found Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav guilty of all the charges. The accused was provided with defending officer as per legal provisions."
Senior Pakistani security officials said that Jadhav's goal was to disrupt the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, with Gwadar port as a special target.
They alleged that Jadhav had a jewellery business in Iran and entered Pakistan from that country from time to time to carry out missions assigned to him. Pakistani authorities claim to have seized travel documents with multiple fake identities from Jadhav.
India insists that Jadhav was abducted from Iran, where he was working as a private contractor near Chabahar port, which New Delhi is now developing with Tehran.
It has suggested that Pakistan's intelligence agencies detained him and rejected allegations that Jadhav worked for RAW.
Today, India cited how its high commission in Islamabad had on 13 occasions sought consular access to Jadhav only to be denied each time.
The announcement of the death sentence comes two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticised Pakistan for the brutalities in Bangladesh that preceded the 1971 war, and for terrorism from its soil.
"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," Jaishankar's demarche to Basit said.
According to the Indian foreign office, the trial was conducted without any "credible evidence" against Jadhav and the Indian mission "was not even informed" that he was being brought to trial.
"The claim in the ISPR release that Shri Jadhav was provided with a defending officer during the so-called trial is clearly absurd in the circumstances," the foreign office said.
The external affairs ministry also referred to comments that Pakistan's de-facto foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, had made in the country's Upper House, the Senate, on December 7.
"What the dossier (following investigations) contained (on Jadhav)," Aziz had said according to Senate records, "did not have any conclusive evidence."
Pakistan's foreign ministry had later that day claimed that Aziz had been misrepresented in the Senate.
Indian officials today cautioned that if Pakistan executed a military veteran like Jadhav, it would almost certainly close any possibility of a meaningful dialogue between the neighbours for months, if not years.
Executing Jadhav would also likely trigger a counter-move from India, sparking a chain reaction that will not be easy to stop.
The Pakistani military's announcement of the death sentence threatens to unravel efforts the two countries' civilian governments have made in recent weeks to break out of a downward spiral in ties through last year.
Twin terror attacks on Indian military installations --- in Pathankot in January 2016 and in Uri in September --- and unrest in Kashmir that New Delhi blamed on Islamabad had led to almost daily allegations and counter-allegations between the nations.
Each of the neighbours accused multiple members of the other's high commission of working as spies and sent them back.
But in November, Pakistan's leaders wished Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj a speedy recovery after a kidney transplant, while Modi wished his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.
Pakistan sent back an Indian soldier who had strayed across the Line of Control, and India repatriated a Pakistani boy brought to this country by his father without the permission of the child's mother.
Islamabad also placed the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Hafiz Saeed, under house arrest.