A military court in Pakistan has handed Kulbhushan Jadav, an accused Indian spy, the death penalty for allegedly carrying out espionage activities against Pakistan.
Islamabad’s decision to award the death penalty to Jadav has caused a stir in both countries. Pakistan, for its part maintains that Jadav was arrested in the country’s Baluchistan province last year while India claims that the former navy commander was abducted from Iran by the Pakistani security agencies.
In the wake of this incident, a number of reports have emerged regarding Yadav’s alleged links with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s top intelligence agency. Reports stating India’s official claim argue that there is no evidence which might prove that Jadav’s activities along the Pakistan-Iran border, where he was arrested, were sponsored by Indian intelligence. The media in Pakistan, however, claims that it’s only convenient for India to deny that Jadav’s questionable presence in Balochistan, aimed at undermining Pakistan’s interests, was not backed by Indian spy agencies.
In apparent reaction to Islamabad’s decision to hang Jadav, India has stepped up its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan with the country’s external affairs ministry calling the judgment a “pre-mediated murder.” In response, Pakistan’ High Commissioner to India has said that Jadav was “not an ordinary man. He was a serving [Indian navy’s] officer” and the Indian government was aware of “what [Pakistan] was talking about.”
In March 2016, Jadhav in a confessional statement said that he worked for India’s intelligence agencies. In December 2016, the media in Pakistan confirmed that Islamabad was unable to gather conclusive evidence to corroborate that Jadhav was carrying out espionage activities in Pakistan on the behest of Indian spy agencies. However, now, according to Pakistan’s military, Jadhav “confessed” before a Magistrate that he “was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate and organize espionage/sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the efforts of Law Enforcement Agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi.”
Meanwhile, in Pakistan an interesting development has taken place which further underscores the perplexity surrounding Jadhav’s case. Uzair Baloch, who ran a mafia organization in the country’s largest city, Karachi, has confessed to having links with Jadav and other foreign intelligence agencies. What is puzzling in Baloch’s disclosure is the fact that at one point about two years ago, Baloch was hailed by the province’s political elite as someone who can be relied upon to counter militant and other threats in the city.
What is important in this case is the timing of Jadhav’s sentence. If Jadhav had been found guilty, why was the same verdict not announced a week or a month ago? There are two reasons that can possibly explain the rationale behind the timing of the verdict. One can look at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent Bangladesh visit where he proudly commemorated New Dehli’s support of the movement for Bangladesh independence and criticized state sponsored terrorism which India has traditionally associated with Pakistan. Second, the Pakistani military’s decision of selecting the death penalty has come in the wake of the reports which claimed that a retired Pakistani Army officer, who was allegedly part of the team that captured Jadhav, was picked up by Indian intelligence agencies near Nepal’s border with India.
The secrecy surrounding Jadhav’s case has brought to life claims that are normally associated with India and Pakistan’s spy wars against each other. Torrents of claims and counter-claims – both official and unofficial – from Islamabad and New Delhi have only generated confusion. The prevailing mystery attached with the issue only highlights the utility of the symbolism that both countries employ to claim higher moral and diplomatic grounds against each other in crisis situations.
At a deeper level, the abductions of the Indian navy officer and Pakistani military officer and associated cases and narratives reflect both states’ intentions to militarize their bilateral relations. Such actions where both states continue to adhere to utmost secrecy to undermine each other’s interests by using the militaristic tools of foreign policy has turned the conflict into an enduring rivalry. Therefore, the only normal in such rivalry is mutual distrust, fear, and willingness on both sides to further deepen the tradition of this militaristic and aggressive approach to foreign policy making.
The statement of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India saying that the “Indian government was aware of what Pakistan was talking about” shows that how secrecy, beyond what is being covered in news or released publicly, has become a “new normal” to settle scores or conduct shadowy dialogues. Arguably, the recent incidents further demonstrate that both states stand to gain from this secrecy which otherwise might prove detrimental to their interests that perhaps can be classified in the realm of domestic discourses.
The recent “spy controversy” and back and forth accusations will only further deepen prevailing chasm between the two countries. In India, public pressure in the form of demonstrations in support of Jadhav is likely to force authorities in New Delhi into taking parallel action. According to some reports, India has already halted the release of a number of Pakistani captives who were scheduled to be released this month. In Pakistan, the military has vowed to follow through on the sentence at any cost.
Besides the fate of accused individuals, the only major causality of this recent “spy controversy” is going to be the likelihood of any peace between both countries. Unfortunately, there is no chance to achieve genuine peace between Pakistan and India if both states continue to find new venues to widen their conflict.