The death sentence awarded by a Military Field General Court Martial (FGCM) to a senior field operative of the Indian intelligence agency, RAW, naval Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel is not surprising, nor the Indian reaction to it.
Jadav, it may be recalled was caught red-handed a year ago from Baluchistan in a counter-intelligence operation. As per his own confessional video, he started working as a RAW agent in 2003, setting up a small business in Chabahar in Iran as a cover, and after some basic work was assigned the task of holding meetings with Baloch insurgents to carry out activities with their collaboration. These activities, he said, “have been of criminal nature, leading to killing of or maiming of Pakistani citizens.” In other words, his job was to carry out state- sponsored acts of terrorism in this country.
It is not unusual, of course, for people to give self-incriminating statements under duress. But in this case there is strong supporting evidence. Backing his statement is Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s 2014 publically declared ‘offensive defence’ strategy of “tackling Pakistan by working on its many, many vulnerabilities” that, he said, “could be internal security, economic, political, Baluchistan or difficulties in Afghanistan.” Then there is the question, what was an Indian naval officer doing in Baluchistan carrying a passport issued in a fictitious Muslim name? According to New Delhi, though, Jadav is a retired naval officer who was abducted from Iran. In that case, those working with a private Indian citizen should have immediately lodged a missing report with the Iranian police. No such record exists.
As a matter of fact, the use of violence by intelligence operatives has been a sort of dirty game spy agencies freely played in the past. In several instances innocent people were killed on both sides as low intensity bombs went off in markets, roadside eateries, and buses. In one particularly horrific incident in Patoki, not far from Lahore, an entire busload of passengers was burnt alive. That heinous practice has since been adopted by the Modi government on a much bigger scale as a formal state policy, as articulated by its National Security Adviser, aimed at destabilising this country. And Jadav is its living proof.
The point to be noted is that the person in question is no ordinary spy collecting sensitive information, but a senior enemy agent actively engaged in fuelling violence and hence was tried by a FGCM. History is replete with instances wherein just spies were handed death sentences and executed too. As for the Indian complaint that he was denied consular access, the bilateral consular access agreement of 2008 does not apply to those arrested for spying, engaging in subversive activities or inciting terrorism.
Be that as it may, implementation of death sentence, an anathema to civilised sensibilities, must be avoided. The door is open to the convict to make a mercy appeal to the Army chief and the President. He has 40 days to file an appeal against the FCGM verdict in an army court of appeal. He can also approach the Supreme Court on the plea that he was not given due process.
So what next? India of course is acting innocent and outraged over the sentence claiming that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Jadav. But the Modi government finds itself in a bind. While on Monday agitated members of Parliament ranted against Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took a temperate line. Predictably, first she accused the country of handing death sentence to an Indian citizen “without due process of law, justice and international relations” warning “the Pakistan government to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter.” Then softening her stance she said India would provide best lawyers to Jadav to go into appeal before the Supreme Court and also approach President of Pakistan (with a mercy appeal).
There is not much else that New Delhi can do to save its RAW agent. What it can and should do is to review its ‘defensive offence’ strategy now that it has blown in its face. People like Doval need to understand that they can get away with sponsoring sabotage and terrorism some of the time, but not all of the time. And also that if Pakistan has its vulnerabilities, so does India. Hitting one another where it hurts is a zero-sum game, however. Besides, it holds an element of dangerous unpredictability; any act of belligerence can spiral out of control, igniting open hostilities between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Sanity suggests both countries return to the negations table and sort out all outstanding issues of dispute in a civilised manner.
Pakistan has repeatedly been making peace overtures only to be spurned by India. In an indirect reference to Pak-India relations in his Tuesday’s speech at a PAF Academy passing-out parade Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, once again, iterated his side’s desire for normalisation, saying “Pakistan, for its part, will never hesitate to extend the hand of friendship to all, and shall never waver from returning goodwill with even more goodwill.” The same day, Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Lieutenant General Nasser Khan Janjua (retd) sensibly remarked during his meeting with the Canadian High Commissioner that Pakistan and India cannot remain enemies forever, and need to engage with one another to resolve disputes. One can only hope the Indian Prime Minister will curb his urge to “teach Pakistan a lesson”, shifting gears from the conflict mode to a co-operative endeavour for peace.