NEW DELHI, April 11 (Xinhua) -- India Tuesday strongly condemned the death sentence handed down to one of its nationals for alleged spying in Pakistan as "an act of premeditated murder" and warned Islamabad of "consequences for bilateral relationship" if he is executed.
"There is clearly no evidence of any wrongdoing by Kulbhushan Jadhav (the alleged spy). This is an act of premeditated murder. I would caution the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter," External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Parliament.
However, experts say that India-Pakistan relations have already tumbled to a new low after a military court in the neighboring country Monday awarded death sentence to Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer, following which New Delhi retaliated by stopping release of some Pakistani prisoners.
"The relations between India and Pakistan have touched another low since the expulsion of each other's diplomatic officials last year over spying charges and the surgical strikes carried out by India across the border in the wake of a terror attack on its Uri military base in Indian-controlled Kashmir in September 2016," said Prof Navin Pathak, a Delhi-based expert.
Last year, Pakistan withdrew six officials from its High Commission in Delhi after they were outed as suspected spies by India. And it later leaked to the media the names and photos of eight alleged Indian spies working from India's mission in Islamabad.
"India has already retaliated by stopping the release of around a dozen Pakistani prisoners, who were to be sent back Wednesday, as an act of retaliation. India has never given death sentence to a Pakistani spy and if the execution of Jadhav goes ahead, then India will not sit back. It has shown that it can retaliated hard over surgical strikes," said Prof S.K. Gupta, another expert.
After the Uri terror attack in which 19 Indian soldiers were killed, Indian Army claimed to have conducted "surgical strikes" against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and inflicted "significant casualties". But Pakistan has rejected the claim.
Experts say that the nuclear-armed neighbours have a long history of diplomatic spats and New Delhi and Islamabad often accuse each other of sending spies into their territories, but this is a case where India claims with conviction that Jadhav was kidnapped by Pakistan from Iran and already cautioned Islamabad of serious consequences.
"While Pakistan claims Jadhav was arrested near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border of Chaman in Balochistan over illegal entry into the country and waging war against the state, India insists the former naval officer was abducted by Pakistan from Iran, where he was working out of after retiring from the Indian Navy. India seems to have a point," said Prof Pathak.
He added: "Indian External Affairs Minister called Jadhav a son of India and cautioned of serious consequences if the death sentence is carried out. This is a clear warning to Pakistan that it would go to the extent of teaching Islamabad a big lesson this time if Jadhav is not freed."
A senior government official said, on condition of anonymity, that India is exploring several options to get Jadhav out of Pakistan, which it thinks could be a ploy by Islamabad to force India to come to the table for talks over Kashmir.
"There has been no movement on composite dialogue over Kashmir, which has been the bone of contention between the two countries for the past 65 years -- and it could be Pakistan's tactic to force India to start the talks. But India knows how to deal with Pakistan, any pressure tactic will not help Islamabad," he said.
Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations has said that Jadhav, who was living as Hussein Mubarak Patel, was arrested on March 3 last year through a "Counter Intelligence Operation" from Balochistan's Mashkel.
The statement also said that Jadhav was arrested for his alleged involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan, and "the spy" has been tried through the Field General Court Martial (FCGM) and was sentenced to death.
In March last year, Islamabad released a video confession of Jadhav and said he revealed how India engineers violence and separatism in the restive province of Balochistan. India insists the confession was made by the former naval officer under duress.