It was a welcome development. Used to feuding with each other on the smallest pretext, our parliamentarians were speaking in one voice for a change. The reason: A military court in Pakistan awarded the death sentence to Kulbhushan Jadhav on allegations of spying, upsetting our members of Parliament (MPs). Their anger was justified and their solidarity commendable.
Will the collective rage be enough to save Jadhav’s life? Will he manage to return unscathed to Mumbai to his family?
These questions need to be raised because even before Parliament’s proceedings could end, Nawaz Sharif’s reply had come with an underlying threat: Our army is prepared. He was responding to a statement by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj that Jadhav was India’s son and all efforts will be made to bring him back—whatever it took. Should anything happen to Jadhav, Pakistan should consider its consequences for our bilateral relationship.
We should not forget that before this, in the Sarabjit Singh case, India had been a victim of Pakistan’s treachery. At a time when the Indian government was building pressure on Islamabad saying that Sarabjit was an average citizen who had strayed into Pakistan by mistake, a few prisoners were carrying out a life-threatening assault on Sarabjit in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail. Were the prison officials so stupid as to not realise the significance of this prisoner for India-Pakistan ties? Clearly these killers had the government’s backing. A day after the incident, an Indian prisoner assaulted Sanaullah Haq in the Jammu jail. After staying in a coma for a few days, Haq died. Now it was the turn of Pakistan to make a counter-allegation since Haq was a Pakistani citizen who had been arrested on charges of involvement in terrorist acts.
Who says international diplomacy is a subject that is discussed only behind closed doors? At times, we see it play out in prisons as well.
Here I must make it clear that the Kulbhushan Jadhav issue is more complicated than Sarabjit Singh’s case. Jadhav was in Iran on a business trip. He was kidnapped from there and brought to Pakistan. Pakistani agencies later released a video of him confessing that he was a RAW agent. But his swollen face and the jumps in the video revealed the coercive condition under which the confession was obtained. It was said that an Indian passport with an Iranian visa was recovered from Jadhav. Since when did spies start travelling using original travel documents such as passports and visas?
Everybody is aware that Pakistani politicians like to wash their sins by getting their hands dirty with the blood of innocent Indian citizens. Here you should carefully consider the timing of Jadhav’s death sentence. Elections to Pakistan’s national assembly are just a year away and Nawaz Sharif wants to retain power to keep his misdeeds away from the public eye. His tenure as prime minister has been anything but stellar. He has failed to act on his electoral promises and his loved ones have been named in the Panama papers. If this weren’t enough, the surgical strike by India further weakened his position.
Pakistan’s new army commander Qamar Javed Bajwa has no option but to go with Sharif. A few weeks before Bajwa took over, the Indian army conducted a surgical strike in Pakistani territory. He wants retribution for that. Not just this, every Pakistani general wants to avenge the humiliation that Pakistan faced in 1971 when 90,000 Pakistani soldiers led by General Niazi surrendered before the Indian army. That’s why Bajwa didn’t think twice before giving a go-ahead to Jadhav’s sentence, even when he knew Jadhav was innocent.
What will be India’s next step? I recollect an informal chat with a senior minister in the Modi government in August 2016 when he said that Pakistan doesn’t really know Narendra Modi. “I don’t know what exactly he will do, but make no mistake, if Pakistan meddles too much with our borders, he will do something that will bring the Pakistanis back to their senses,” the minister said. Who knew that a few weeks later, our soldiers would cross the border and destroy the launch pads of terrorists who were flourishing with Pakistan’s support?
Clearly, Indian citizens are now hoping for Jadhav’s release. Can a strong nation such as India allow Pakistani intelligence agencies to kidnap one of their citizens from Iran and hang him?
It is a test for India’s intent and resolve.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.