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Why Jadhav became so important for India? – Dr Moeed Pirzada

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Dr Moeed Pirzada |

Prominent Indian journalist, Praveen Swami, in his groundbreaking piece, “India’s Secret War” (Frontline, 16 February 2018) raises an interesting question: “Thirteen Indians are being held in Pakistan on espionage charges, and 30 Pakistanis are in Indian jails, but there is not a single case has either country officially concerned itself with its agent’s fate”. Swami’s question becomes even more relevant when you consider the Global Village Space (GVS)’s brief research contained in a stand-alone piece, “Those who came before Jadhav” that shows that at least 11 Indian agents since early 1970s were arrested, tried, sentenced – and most returned to India after their sentences or pardon.

What makes the Indian naval officer, Jadhav so important? How has India landed in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) when most nation-states, in conventional practice, will like to negotiate or settle such matters behind the scenes through exchanges of prisoners or concessions through the diplomatic channels? Swami himself ponders on this question in great length. His six-page-long seminal research – for which journalists and informed citizens across India and Pakistan, and historians across the world owe him a debt of gratitude – addresses this question on more than one occasion.

What ties Indian government and its state agencies irrefutably with Jadhav is the fact that while he finds mention in official ‘Gazette of India’ as a naval officer (joined 1987) his retirement and pension records do not exist.

At one point he admits, “the possibility that Jadhav is still a serving naval officer is precisely what makes this case different”. At another point, he quotes an unnamed Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer who comments upon the details of Jadhav case by saying, “basically, it makes it impossible for India to deny he (Jadhav) is whom he says he is, which is a basic element of tradecraft”. At yet another point, Praveen Swami himself ends up concluding, “the questions over Jadhav’s passports, the opacity of his business operations and most importantly, the lack of transparency about his connection to the Indian Navy have all made it difficult for the Government of India to dissociate itself from his cause – the usual necessary fate of the spy”

In many ways, Swami’s piece is all about Jadhav’s identity and his investigation for which he spoke to several diplomats and intelligence officers across three countries (India, Pakistan, and Iran) leaves little doubt in the mind of a reader that Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav is a serving Indian officer who was on a mission authorised at the highest level from the Indian government – though Swami, the careful Indian journalist does not say this in these words. Swami’s research corresponds well with what many of us were able to understand through our interactions with Pakistan Foreign Office, intelligence and other government sources including many off-the-record briefings.

Read more: Will Pakistan execute Jadhav before the final verdict?

Most of that is now in public knowledge; though many things were not known when I wrote, “Kulbhashan Jadhav had also planned the attack on Pakistani Consulate in Zahedan” (GVS, 25 December 2017), almost two months before Swami’s piece appeared in the Frontline. Now it is common knowledge that Jadhav, a senior officer in Indian Navy (Navy No: 41558Z), recruited in Navy in 1987, was placed in Iran somewhere in 2003, he was assigned to RAW from 2013 onwards. He was carrying Indian passport (No: L9630722) when he was arrested from a compound in Mashkel, in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, in an area not far from the Iranian border in March 2016.

A visibly shocked Indian government first denied before admitting that he was indeed an officer with Indian Navy – but then insisted that he had retired and lived at the Iranian port of Chabahar on his own as a businessman. Diplomatic circles were planted with the idea that Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has seized him from high seas; social media sites in the region speculated that Afghan Taliban may have captured him and handed him to Pakistanis; after all “his carrying his passport with him on a covert mission makes no sense”. It must be mentioned that Praveen Swami, like the Indian government, also asserts that Jadhav was seized from the Iranian province of Saravan, close to the Pakistani border.

Pakistani agencies have obtained his actual pay slips as a serving officer, till 2016, as was hinted by the Pakistani counsel during the ICJ trial.

However, inside the ICJ courtroom, in February 2019, Pakistani counsel, Prof Khawar Qureshi placed on record that when during the February 2018 visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Indian media questioned the Indian government, “if India has raised the issue of Jadhav’s abduction from Iran” then they were curtly informed that this was “not part of bilateral discussions” and this does not fall in this domain. In other words, the Indian government and its agencies planted the idea of “Jadhav’s abduction from Iran” in media space but never formally raised the issue with Iran.

During the ICJ trial in February 2019, Pakistani counsel kept demanding any evidence of due process initiated by the Indian government in Iran on this fictional abduction but the Indian side remained silent. Pakistani sources had, however, confirmed that Iranians acted against the small cell that Jadhav operated under the cover of “Kaminda Trading” and his associates were made to leave Iran. From Swami’s piece, we know that Iranian officials had meticulously looked into the affairs of Kaminda Trading and were surprised that it never behaved like a normal business in terms of the volume of trade or banking relations.

Read more: “Pakistan should take measures to ensure that Jadhav is not executed”,…

Indian government and media have, however, kept the fiction of “abduction from Iran” alive for domestic consumption – and many commentators on television and newspapers keep repeating this without any evidence. On matters regarding Jadhav’s status (whether he was a retired or serving official) Pakistani sources and Swami’s piece have no dispute.

Pakistani Letter of Assistance (LOA) in January 2017, before the finalisation of trial against Jadhav had demanded to see evidence of his retirement from Indian Navy, statement of his former Naval reporting officer and as to how he was in possession of an Indian passport under the Muslim name of “Hussain Mubarak Patel”, an identity he used for entering Iran. The Indian government was never able to explain and it kept dodging these questions since March 2016 and throughout the trial at the ICJ.

Why Jadhav creates an unusual challenge, a lingering embarrassment for the Indian government is thus not difficult to understand. All those – spies, saboteurs or terrorists – who came before him were junior intelligence operators who were cloaked, effectively covered under the conventional practice of “plausible deniability”; even when seized agents confessed and admitted like in the cases of Ravindra Kaushik, Gurbaksh Ram, Vinod Sawhney, and others it did not compel Indian government to accept their claims or take responsibility for their actions because Pakistanis........

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