Is the Modi government's tough stand on Kashmir about to cost the former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav his life?
New Delhi thinks there could be a connection between what is happening in Kashmir and Jadhav's sudden death sentence by a military court of Pakistan. Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani authorities last year allegedly for espionage and sentenced to death on Monday.
The Modi-led NDA government, unlike previous governments, has refused to engage Kashmiri separatists. On the other hand, separatists, especially the Jamaat- e-Islami, have been fueling protests in the valley, according to reports.
Last year, Kashmir witnessed deadly protests after Hizbul Mujahideen Commander Burhan Wani was killed that left 84 civilians dead. Several thousand security force personnel and civilians were also injured and separatist leaders ensured a lock down of the Kashmir valley for about three months.
And, although Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh led a delegation of members of Parliament to the valley to end the violence, separatists were not engaged. India has accused Pakistan of supporting the separatists, funneling slush funds into the valley to fuel the protest.
At least seven people were killed when protesters tried to disrupt the by-elections to the Parliament yesterday. Protesters threw stones and petrol bombs attacked polling booths forcing security forces to fire back.
"The idea behind the Jadhav death sentence is to force New Delhi to a dialogue on Kashmir," former Special Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Rana Banerjee told HuffPost India. Banerjee believes Pakistan will hold out a possibility of a presidential pardon for Jadhav to force India to talk to Pakistan.
"The idea behind the Jadhav death sentence is to force New Delhi to a dialogue on Kashmir"
Others experts, however, think that Kashmir may not be an immediate focus but Pakistan will look for a bargain. "I am not all surprised by Pakistan actions and I do not rule out Pakistan using Jadhav as bargaining chip" former Secretary RAW Sanjeev Tripati told HuffPost India.
On Tuesday, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Parliament that India would go out of its way to save Jadhav. India-Pakistan relations would suffer if the death sentence is carried out, Swaraj made clear. "I would caution the Pakistani government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter," she said.
India now plans to appeal against the death sentence, taking a stand the judgement before a higher military tribunal and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
"The verdict can be challenged within 60 days," a senior official said. The Ministry of External Affairs is also in touch with Jadhav's family. "We will assist them to file the appeals," the officer said.
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