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  Opinion   Oped  16 Apr 2017  Raw Truth on Jadhav

Raw Truth on Jadhav

Neena Gopal is Resident Editor, Deccan Chronicle, Bengaluru
Published : Apr 16, 2017, 12:51 am IST
Updated : Apr 16, 2017, 12:52 am IST

Jadhav could not have fallen into Pakistan’s clutches at a more opportune time for Rawalpindi, handing no better stick to beat India with.

File photo of former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of 'espionage'. (Photo: PTI)
 File photo of former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of 'espionage'. (Photo: PTI)

Pakistan’s big catch, the Indian naval officer and spy, Kulbhushan Jadhav may not have been a trained Indian intelligence operative, but his capture and arrest, his subsequent sentencing and the ill-conceived, high decibel campaign unleashed by Delhi can ensure only two things, neither of which spell freedom for the man. A prolonged incarceration. Or death for Jadhav.

This maybe a part of Pakistan’s bid to nail India’s purported involvement in the Baloch insurgency; More so, as the new U.S. administration, under President Donald Trump seems set to rap Islamabad for not reining in the Haqqani network, while holding out the threat to withhold US$ 350 m from the Coalition Support Fund that was due to Pakistan for its ‘support” of US forces in Afghanistan.

 

The ‘mother of all bombs’ that was dropped by US forces on Nangarhar late Thursday, that destroyed a warren of underground tunnels used by Pakistan’s ISI-sponsored Taliban operatives – not the fictitious face-saver ISIS - could have only reinforced the Pakistan’s military’s fears that its duplicitous policies would be exposed, as the military-ISI complex’s terror chickens come home to roost.

Jadhav could not have fallen into Pakistan’s clutches at a more opportune time for Rawalpindi, handing no better stick to beat India with.

In 2016, Jadhav, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, walked into a trap. Unschooled in the murky world inhabited by drug runners who control the waters of the Gulf, he ran afoul of the very men he had befriended, crossing the unwritten red lines laid down by smugglers and spies.  

 

The manner of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s capture inside Pakistani territory, supposedly in Mashkel, a remote, one horse town, less than an hour’s drive from the Iranian border on the Pak-Iran border road, has seemed highly improbable from the start. The barren, desolate no-man’s land, marked by deserts, rugged mountains and porous borders is no tourist spot. Hit by a quake in 2016, months before Jadhav was supposedly caught there, it is frequented by drug smugglers carrying opium on mules through the shifting sands of the Afghan-Iran-Balochistan tri-junction, with the drug barons operating out of the handful of mansions and mud houses that dot the bleak landscape. The residents are dirt-poor Balochis and Iranians who trade in fuel.

 

Why would Jadhav, even if he was, as the Pakistanis claim, central to fomenting a terror network of Baloch insurgents, head to Mashkel where his language skills, ethnicity and physiognomy would have made him stand out as a foreigner and an Indian?

Sources in the ports that dot the Arabian Gulf, where many retired Indian naval officers are employed, believe that Jadhav’s small time dhow business headquartered in the Iranian port of Chabahar was more than what it seemed, and most probably transported drugs and contraband, either independently, or for the Baloch drug cartel. A long time employee of one of the ports said that Jadhav may have even had an Iranian family, hence his conversion to Islam.

 

In his new avatar as a businessman, he did have access not just to the critical Iranian port of Chabahar but both Gwadar and Pasni in Balochistan province. Information he gathered then, saw him make the error that could probably cost him his life. In a bid to win brownie points with Indian intel, which had repeatedly fobbed off his every approach, he tipped off the Indian coast guard on an arms and drug drop by the Baloch drug runners on the ISI’s favoured Porbandar hideout on the coast of Gujarat, on new year’s eve December 31, 2015.  

Drug baron Uzair Baloch, a Pakistani Baloch with an Iranian passport, first arrested, just days before Jadhav in March 2016 in a Gulf state, and then sentenced for espionage in Karachi – for spying for Tehran, not Delhi - only days after a similar sentence was given to the Indian, is reported to have pointed to Jadhav as the real ‘spy’ operating out of Chabahar for 10 years.

 

In March 2016, reports indicate, Baloch had him lured by his Mr Fix it, Haji Baloch to the border town, and as payback for Porbander, and in exchange for a better deal for himself, handed him over to the ISI. While all this is unconfirmed thus far, the questions that Jadhav’s arrest threw up in 2016, remain unanswered even after the fast track military court sentenced him to death a full year later, turning him into this improbable cause celebre.

For one thing, the resounding silence from friendly neighbor Iran on Jadhav and Baloch’s arrest until this Saturday - notwithstanding, India-Iran relations going belly-up on India’s foot-dragging on developing Chabahar, and Iran looking for Chinese investment, - is unusual.

 

More so, after the furious denial by Iranian officials of any complicity, when Pakistan’s then military chief Gen. Raheel Sharif brought up the issue of Jadhav using Iranian soil to spy on Pakistan, when he met the visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, on March 25, 2016, when he was, coincidentally, on his first state visit to Pakistan.

In fact, one of the two passports that the Pakistanis say was found on Jadhav, apart from the authentic Indian one under his real name, was under the assumed name of Hussain Mubarak Patel. The two standouts are this - first, it had a valid Iranian visa, and second, the details and address in the passport clearly establish his Indian origin, as the given address is his mother’s in Mumbai.

 

That the fake passport may have been procured from dodgy passport dealers in Mumbai, is all too possible as no Indian intelligence network would issue a fake passport with an authentic address. No trained intelligence operative would be carrying his real passport as well as his fake passport with him, either, retired officers said.

It’s also curious how the studied silence in the Delhi of 2016, immeditaley after Jadhav’s arrest was announced, is gone. Today, the government is in overdrive. And Delhi based former intel officers openly scoff at Pakistan’s claims that R&AW would put an Indian in that area, saying they would never hire a man when local sources were easier to tap. Without the shared ethnicity and language that made intelligence gathering easy in Punjab and Kashmir, they say, gathering intel from inside Balochistan, with which India does not even share a border, through an Indian ‘asset’ is just not done.

 

The concerted effort by former officers from India’s intelligence agencies to distance themselves from him, may be to give Jadhav a fighting chance at clearing his name, say the embedded media in Pakistan which is also tweeting that Jadhav reports to the highest echelons of the Modi government as he was a relative of a senior leader, and that he was one of the boys!

That ploy ensures that Jadhav becomes the tool with which to paint Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as the spoiler in the Indo-Pak relationship that no amount of back channel talks between the respective NSAs in Bangkok and Dubai, have been able to lift, from its current dystopian reality.

 

The speculation that Jadhav’s abduction by Pakistan from Iranian territory mirrors the disappearance of Pakistani ISI operative last Sunday from Nepal, and that a swap deal was the real Pakistan plan, has also seen much play.

Clearly, though, with health issues dogging a politically weakened Mr Sharif, concerned that the Panama papers could rob him of his dream to serve at least one full term as prime minister, the Pakistan army has retaken control of the India-Pakistan narrative. 

The Prime Minister of Pakistan visiting the army chief after the Jadhav death sentence, a demonstration of that power shift, has also seen the Army-ISI showing renewed determination to shore up, Balochistan, Gilgit and PoK, the three areas of vulnerability that PM Modi openly identified as such from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independance Day.  

 

Ascribing the Baloch insurgency to Delhi and Kabul  - and even Iran - not only helps the Pakistan army play the ‘victim’ card, it helps allay new benefactor Beijing’s concerns that Pakistan is not doing everything it can to ensure the safety of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Embarrassing Delhi on its J&K policy is the US’ UN ambassador Nikki Haley who has already called for U.S. mediation. But by stoking anger among the stone-throwing young which puts paid to India’s boast of polls being held peacefully in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan is growing in confidence that it can pull the Kashmir rug from under India’s feet.

Making an enemy of immediate neighbours, Tehran, Kabul and Delhi all in one go, is unusual even for Islamabad. With Jadhav’s death sentence putting paid to any peace overtures for now, India can perhaps draw blood only if it turns Balochistan into Pakistan’s Kashmir. By making common cause with the Afghans as well as Tehran. Time for a new Modi doctrine?

 

Tags: kulbhushan jadhav, donald trump, isis, nikki haley