New Delhi (AP) — India lashed out at Pakistan on Thursday for its treatment of the wife and mother of an Indian naval officer on death row for spying during their first meeting since his arrest.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj accused Pakistan of disregarding the cultural and religious sensibilities of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s family under the pretext of security precautions, including the removal of bangles and other ornaments as well as a change in attire and shoes.
Swaraj said in a statement in India’s Parliament that Monday’s meeting in the Pakistani capital could have proved to be a positive step in improving ties between the two countries. Pakistan’s military responded by saying India should have “appreciated” Islamabad’s gesture instead of launching a smear campaign with “baseless allegations.”
The criticism is expected to exacerbate tensions between the longtime rivals who have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947 and regularly exchange fire along their disputed territory in Kashmir.
The meeting was the first between Jadhav and his family since he was arrested by Pakistan in March 2016 after allegedly entering the country from Iran. A Pakistani military tribunal found Jadhav guilty of espionage and sabotage and sentenced him to death, but India obtained an order from the International Court of Justice to halt the execution.
While India says that Jadhav is a retired Indian navy official, the Pakistan government has been describing him as a serving officer.
Swaraj accused the Pakistan government of using the meeting as a “propaganda tool” and violating mutual understandings on the meeting.
During the meeting, Jadhav was seen sitting behind a glass screen in the Pakistani Foreign Office while his mother and wife sat on the other side. They spoke through an intercom for nearly 40 minutes.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor rejected the Indian allegation that no respect was shown to Jadhav’s family.
Ghafoor said Pakistan had informed India before the arrival of Jadhav’s wife and mother that they would have to undergo security clearance before the meeting.
“Kulbhushan Jadhav is an established terrorist and his family was allowed to meet with him purely on humanitarian grounds,” he told reporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
The Indian minister said the Pakistani press was allowed on multiple occasions to approach family members closely, harass and hector them and hurl accusations about Jadhav. She said this was despite a clear agreement between the two sides that the media would not be allowed close access.
Jadhav’s mother was prevented from talking to her son in their mother tongue, although this was clearly the natural medium of communication, Swaraj said
Despite her repeated requests, the shoes of Jadhav’s wife were not returned to her after the meeting, she said.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Jadhav’s mother thanked authorities for allowing the meeting with her son and that Indian allegations were “baseless, counterproductive and regrettable.”
“The visitors changed into their own clothes after the meeting. All their belongings were returned to them before they left,” Mohammad Faisal told reporters in Islamabad. “The shoes of Commander Jadhav’s wife was retained as it did not clear the security check.”
In a statement, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said the shoes were seized after a “metal chip” was found in one of her shoes, which was still being analyzed.
India’s opposition joined Swaraj in a rare moment of Parliamentary unity to strongly condemn Pakistan on the issue.
Leaders from the main opposition Congress party and other parties asked the government to lodge a protest with Pakistan and expedite efforts at the International Court of Justice to seek Jadhav’s acquittal in the case.