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Kulbhushan Jadhav video: Facing US ire, a desperate attempt from Pakistan to salvage narrative

Not for the first time, Pakistan is playing a game of smoke and mirrors with Kulbhushan Jadhav. The latest so-called confessional video aired by Rawalpindi and an attendant claim that the retired Indian naval officer has sought "clemency" from Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa for his "acts of espionage, subversion and terrorism in Balochistan" is targeted more at Washington than at The Hague.

Pakistan is currently facing a lot of bipartisan heat from US Congress over its countless perfidies on war against terror. As Narendra Modi meets Donald Trump, it is also fearful of a closer Indo-US synergy on counter-terrorism. Both leaders are known for their tough stands against terrorism.

Reinforcing the narrative that India is 'not a victim but perpetrator of terror' weakens Modi's stance and may even take some heat off Pakistan at a time when the US is grappling with a difficult battle in Afghanistan and holds Islamabad responsible for Taliban's resilience. It is a desperate strategy but worth a shot. Or at least that's what Rawalpindi khakis may have calculated while releasing the second Jadhav video right at this time.

 Kulbhushan Jadhav video: Facing US ire, a desperate attempt from Pakistan to salvage narrative

File image of Kulbhushan Jadhav. PTI

Trouble is, most of Islamabad's propagandist efforts are boringly crude. The move to portray itself as a victim of "India-sponsored terrorism" and counter the current belligerent mood at Washington lacks finesse and mirrors its amateurish claim that the doctored video is a "concrete proof". What does Pakistan need to prove? To whom?

After the "trial and conviction" of the Indian national in a military court and awarding of the death sentence, why does Pakistan feel the need to release more such "confessional" videos? Is it to convince the world that it indeed has an irrefutable case? It is a Freudian slip if ever there was one — a tacit admission of guilt. Pakistan's actions end up proving India's charge that the proceedings against the retired Indian naval officer lack transparency and are farcical in nature.

New Delhi has interpreted the latest video as an attempt to influence and mislead proceedings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is adjudicating the case. The ICJ, in its ruling on 18 May, had asked Pakistan to stay the execution of Jadhav until after it had arrived at a decision and has subsequently called upon India to submit its plea by 13 September. Pakistan needs to do so by 13 December.

In a statement, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Gopal Baglay has called the developments "an attempt to introduce prejudice in the proceedings in the ICJ… through …unwarranted and misleading false propaganda".

India should not worry about ICJ being misled. The Hague-based court had refused to let Pakistan play the so-called first "confessional video" during the 15 May hearing. If anything, the judges are likely to take a dim view of any ham-handed attempts to influence the verdict. Besides, there is little logic for Pakistan to release the second video now. The timing doesn't suit its case at the ICJ.

Instead, Pakistan's actions betray twin compulsions — domestic (where the Nawaz Sharif government has faced a fearsome public backlash over the way it has handled the ICJ case so far) and strategic (where Islamabad's reputation as a state sponsor of terrorism has been newly reinforced). Jadhav, in this context, is just a pawn that Pakistan is using in trying to wriggle out of a tight spot.

India may feel aggrieved at Pakistan's refusal to grant consular access or stonewalling of the mercy petition filed by Jadhav's mother, the unpleasant truth is that Pakistan couldn't care less about India's concerns or for that matter, ICJ's ruling. The statement that Pakistan has forced out of Jadhav — telltale signs of torture are evident — make it clear that it wants to tap into the larger global narrative against terrorism using Jadhav as a weapon. The Indian national has been made to declare that he was trying, at R&AW's behest, to undermine construction of China Pakistan Economic Corridor and incite Baloch insurgents.

Why is this necessary? As already mentioned, Pakistan's 'reputation' as a double dealer on terrorism has come under renewed focus as US struggles with a war it cannot win in Afghanistan. On Thursday, a car bomb ripped through southern Afghanistan province of Helmand, killing 34 and injuring over 58. The victims were mostly civilians preparing to celebrate Eid. The Taliban took responsibility for the act.

Along with the Haqqani Network, the Taliban has been instrumental in thwarting US efforts at the war-stricken nation and their advances have forced the Trump administration to consider sending more troops. US defense secretary Jim Mattis told the Senate recently that “we are not winning in Afghanistan,” despite having 8,500 American soldiers on ground and another 5,000 NATO troops busy propping up an amateurish Afghan force and hunting down terrorists of various hues who operate mostly out of Pakistan soil.

The statistics are damning. According to Washington Post, "In the first eight months of 2016, Afghan forces suffered 15,000 casualties including more than 5,000 killed. Civilian deaths are also at record highs... In 2016, there were more than 11,000 civilian casualties, including 3,498 killed."

Security analysts have pointed out the devilish role Pakistan is playing in the Afghan war by running with the hare and hunting with the hound. According to professor C Christine Fair, author of a seminal book on Pakistan army, "The majority of deaths in Afghanistan are directly and indirectly attributable to Pakistan, which in most significant ways controls, directs, and protects the Taliban as well as the most lethal fighting organisation in Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network. US intelligence, among others, believe that both the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network are proxies under the control of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, as well as the Pakistan Army. Pakistan has engaged in this policy of duplicity despite benefitting from some $33 billion in US assistance since 9/11." 

This has caused widespread anger in the US. The Trump administration has indicated that it may cut Pakistan's aid or send drones into its soil to neutralise the terrorists whom Islamabad is harbouring. There are also indications that Pakistan's status as a 'Major Non-Nato Ally' (MNNA) may be downgraded, causing deep distress in Islamabad.

Reports emerged on Friday that Republican Congressman Ted Poe and Democratic lawmaker Rick Nolan have tabled a bipartisan bill in US House of Representatives to revoke Pakistan's status as MNNA. According to Poe, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as chairman of the Sub-committee on Terrorism, "Pakistan must be held accountable for the American blood on its hands."

It is not a coincidence, therefore, that Islamabad is trying to salvage the narrative by pulling out the victim card. What better way to do it than by flogging Jadhav and showing India as the pantomime villain? Whether or not Pakistan's strategy works depends on the gullibility and compulsions of Trump administration.

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Updated Date: Jun 23, 2017 17:57:01 IST