Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav’s death sentence on the basis of a closed trial will further deteriorate the relations between India and Pakistan. What then is the way forward?
"Uzair Baloch taken into military custody under Pakistan Army Act / Official Secret Act -1923 on charges of espionage", tweeted Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor at midnight on April 11.
A day earlier, the ISPR had released another statement which stated: "RAW agent Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav was tried by Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under section 59 of Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 and Section 3 of Official Secret Act of 1923. FGCM found Kulbhushan Jadhav guilty of all the charges. He 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".
These back-to-back developments instantly altered the news rundowns in Pakistan.
The same was true for across the border where the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj warned: "I would caution the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter".
Pakistani and Indian analysts have reservations over the procedure of Jadhav’s trial. Pakistan’s defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqa believes "the decision to award Jadhav with a death sentence, was taken suddenly. It appears that the concerned authorities were in a hurry, especially considering that in December, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, stated in the Senate that the government could not finalise a dossier on Jadhav, the captured Indian spy, because of the inadequate evidence provided so far".
"I think from a civil society’s perspective, we have to take a very clear position that there has to be greater transparency in the proceedings. Remember it’s a very dangerous precedent. You can pick up anyone and accuse them by saying that Jadhav took their name. I think it’s a bad case for our own civil liberties," she says while talking to TNS.
Others, on the Indian side, are skeptical about the way the case was handled. "I am not amazed because both the countries have been spying on each other and both have spies incarcerated in their jails. If it is proven that Kulbhushan was really a spy, I will not be shocked," explains Praveen Swami, Editor Strategic Affairs of The Indian Express, talking on telephone from New Delhi.
Swami also believes that "no one has seen the charges and nobody has witnessed what happened during the court trial. So saying something on the basis of closed trial will be difficult, and we are not aware what crime is supposed to have been committed. It is premature before proceedings’ details unfold."
Jadhav’s death penalty in Pakistan will further deteriorate the bilateral relations of India and Pakistan. Pakistan and India’s weakening relations are decades old. Initially, Kashmir served as the point of contention between them. Later, Balochistan and Afghanistan became hotspots for proxy wars between them. The Indian government has long been alleging that Islamabad supports the Kashmir struggle by arming Kashmiri youth.
Conversely, Pakistan alleges that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) fuels terrorism in the southern and Eastern parts of Balochistan where Baloch insurgents are fighting against the Pakistani forces. Pakistan also alleges that New Delhi uses the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence, to support banned outfits such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al-Qaeda and Daesh.
It appears the proxy wars are in full swing. Pakistan believes that Jadhav is part of this proxy war. Since the announcement of his arrest, reportedly, the Indian government requested for counsellor access 13 times. These requests were declined by Islamabad.
"If Jadhav is a spy, he should be treated as such, under the Pakistani laws. Let’s be very clear on that. However, it’s the contents of the case that I have an issue with," said Siddiqa. "In a situation where bilateral relations of both the countries are not good, nobody wants war and both countries want to be able to manage conflict, counsellor access should have been granted to Jadhav."
Jadhav, who retired from the Indian Navy in 2002, was reportedly arrested on March 3, 2016 from Mashkel area of Balochistan on charges of espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan. It was alleged that he was operating via a network in Chahbahar, an Iranian port city.
Furthermore, there are reports that the recent arrest of Uzair Baloch, a notorious leader of the Lyari gang war, and Jadhav’s death penalty are linked.
The Joint Interrogation Team (JIT), comprising military and civilian officials, that probed Uzair Baloch claims that he was involved in espionage activities by providing information about sensitive military installations and officials to foreign agents (Iranian Intelligence officers). This, they say, is a violation of the Official Secret Act 1923.
The allegation goes that Uzair Baloch had escaped to Iran and was hiding in Chahbahar when Jadhav, the alleged Indian spy, set up an intelligence network in the same port city.
It is also noteworthy that the same Uzair Baloch organised a huge rally in support of Pakistan’s armed forces after the 2011 Salala incident at the AfPak border, and greeted the Sindh Rangers with rose petals after a 10-day long police operation in 2012.
There is a third tangent to this story: A retired Pakistan Army Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Habib Zahir has been missing since April 6. On April 13, the Pakistan Foreign Office said: "The role of foreign agencies cannot be ruled out in the disappearance of a former Pakistan Army officer in Nepal".
There are reports that the Iranian government also shared details about Jadhav with the Indian government, but particulars are not available.
About how the Jadhav issue is being seen in India, Swami says: "There were some voices on television channels but this was not a big public issue. There is no election anywhere either. Initially, the impression was that he will have no chance of appeal and will be hanged the very next day. And there was some emotional reaction too. But since it became clear that there is still a legal recourse left, the issue has almost cooled down. There is a wait and watch moment here in India."
"How much more can you aggravate the situation? This is war mongering, belligerence. It’s a very senseless from both sides. And this is happening at a time when both sides are redefining their nuclear thresholds. A little provocation can take us where nobody can envisage," warns Ayesha Siddiqa.