Pakistan may not be in a great hurry to hang alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, but, going by some past precedents, he may rot in jail there for a long time. And considering the global attention being heaped on Jadhav’s death sentence, it is more likely that those who run the affairs of the neighbouring country will subject him to a protracted legal process, however farcical that may be, before sending him back to India, if they ever do.
But, have no doubt that the powers-that-be across the border won’t return him to India without milking every ounce of political propaganda at home – this is election year in Pakistan. And if Pakistan does indeed let go of him, it won’t do it before extracting as much bargaining power with India as possible in its devious, diplomatic games that are the full-time occupation for its military honchos.
It’s reasonably safe to presume that, short of hanging Jadhav, Pakistan may do with him what it did with Kashmir Singh, Surjeet Singh, Ravindra Kaushik, Sarabjit Singh and other real and presumed Indian spies in the past. Kashmir and Surjeet returned to India after languishing in Pakistani jails for 35 and 41 years respectively. Ravindra and Sarabjit died miserable deaths in Pakistan after long jail stints.
That’s what India must stop Pakistan from doing to Jadhav. But that’s what Pakistan may do, if India doesn’t play its cards right. Jadhav may be allowed to move an appellate military court, and if unsuccessful, the high court later. If he still fails to acquit himself, he may finally be permitted to file a mercy petition before the Pakistan President.
The issue may then be left hanging for a painfully long time, and as Jadhav rots in jail, Pakistan will tell India and the world that it’s the most merciful and benevolent nation that ever existed on the planet – that is scourged by raw wickedness and evil – and that the "law" is taking its due course.
Some previous cases
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) arrested India’s Kashmir, 32, on Peshawar-Rawalpindi road in 1974, charging him with espionage. An army court sentenced him to death, though there was no evidence of what he was accused of. Two years later, a civil court upheld the sentence. After spending 35 years in different Pakistani jails, his mercy petition caught the benign eyes of the then President General Pervez Musharraf who, "shocked" by the whole thing, ordered Singh’s release in 2008.
Four days after Singh crossed the Wagah border to return to India, as a 67-year-old man, he told The Times of India that he had been chained for 17 years in a solitary cell. Singh admitted that he was a spy.
Now take the case of Surjeet, whom the Pakistanis caught during the 1971 war, charged him with spying and dumped him in a jail. He was sentenced to death and even thought to be dead in 1974. An army court awarded him a death sentence in 1985 and, four years later, Pakistan’s Acting President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, commuted his death sentence to a life term in jail. In June 2012, then President Asif Ali Zardari granted him mercy and released Surjeet, after he had languished in Pakistani jails for 41 years.
Then there was the legendary case of Ravindra, who was caught in 1983 and slapped with a death sentence two years later. The sentence was commuted to life term later, but he died in jail in 1999, supposedly of tuberculosis and heart disease.
The case of Sarabjit, who allegedly masterminded the bomb attacks in Lahore and Faisalabad in 1990, was worse. Though he was sentenced to death in 1991 and never hanged, he died in a Lahore jail in April 2013, under circumstances that continue to baffle India’s intelligence community.
Other Indian spies were relatively luckier. Among them are:
- Balwir Singh (returned to India in 1986, after 12 years in Pakistani jails)
- Vinod Sawhney (returned in 1988, after 11 years)
- Suram Singh (returned in 1988, after 14 years)
- Daniel (returned in 1997, after four years)
- Ramraj (returned in 2004, after eight years)
- Gurbaksh Ram (returned in 2006, after 16 years)
- Ram Prakash (returned in 2008, after 11 years)
Why Jadhav’s case is unique
Unlike the past cases, there is no confirmation yet that Jadhav is a spy for India’s espionage agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). It’s true that even if Jadhav was not employed by RAW, he could still be a spy: Intelligence agencies including the American CIA depute non-employees as "non-official cover" (NOC) agents to give themselves plausible deniability, in case they are caught. But in Jadhav’s case, there is no hint of that. All we have is a claim by Pakistan and an alleged confession by Jadhav.
What’s more important is Pakistan’s claim that Jadhav was "arrested" on 3 March, 2016 – while he was snooping around in the Mashkel region of Balochistan – was questioned by former German ambassador to Pakistan Gunter Mulack. He said last year that it was Taliban which had picked up Jadhav near the Afghanistan-Balochistan border and then "sold" him to ISI.
On Wednesday, Mulack, however, told The Times of India that his information was based on "unconfirmed speculation from reliable sources" and that it could be wrong. Yet, the remarks of Mulack, a respected diplomat with creditable contacts in the Middle East, throw enough doubt into Jadhav’s alleged arrest.
But the question is no longer whether Jadhav is a spy or an Indian doing some cargo business in Iran, who had been kidnapped and framed. Whatever he is, Pakistan’s secretive and opaque military trial of Jadhav and the barbaric justice meted out to him are both offensive to human civilisation and a blow to modern diplomatic conventions.
Even more glaring is the fact that Pakistan has not specified the crime Jadhav has allegedly committed. Here is the 10 April press release on his sentence:
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) April 10, 2017
It only talks of his "involvement in espionage and sabotage activities in Pakistan”. Unlike in the case of Sarabjit, who was accused of abetting bomb attacks that killed 14 people in Pakistan, there is no specific charge against Jadhav.
Nor does Jadhav’s alleged confession, whose transcript was released last year, go into specifics. It only mentions his meetings with Baloch rebels and activities of a "criminal" nature.
Besides, the timing of both Jadhav’s "arrest" and the announcement of his death sentence raise suspicions. The "arrest" was announced last year, just before a team from that country was scheduled to visit the Pathankot airbase, which had been attacked by terrorists. But was it just a coincidence?
In all probability, Pakistan’s military feared that the delegation’s visit to Pathankot would corroborate India’s allegations of cross-border terrorism and might even lead to improved relations between the two countries, an idea that is allergic to the generals in Rawalpindi.
Then came the second coincidence, if it’s one. Jadhav’s death sentence was announced just four days after former Pakistan Army officer Mohammad Habib Zahir went "missing" at Lumbini in Nepal, near the Indian border. Did Pakistan fear that India had captured the officer and was about to expose what he had been doing? Or did they apprehend that India would use him to bargain for Jadhav’s release?
And was it also a coincidence that Jadhav’s sentence was announced less than a week after the US offered to mediate, to de-escalate India-Pakistan tension? Did Pakistan intend to show up India as a terror-monger?
As the villain in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel Goldfinger said, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action."
Author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2017 12:18:11 IST