By Advait Moharir
India-Pakistan relations are on the tenterhooks again. After a brief period of lull and a few months of non-confrontation, the two nations are sparring over a new conflict. This time, it is regarding Pakistan’s decision to hang Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired Indian Navy officer who was arrested in the Chaman area of Balochistan on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Suspected of being a RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent by the government of Pakistan, he has been accused of disrupting the Gwadar port project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The origin of the conflict
The dispute arose with Jadhav’s arrest on 3rd March 2016 after he was tried by the Field General Court Martial of Pakistan. On receiving news of his arrest, the Indian government made multiple attempts to provide Jadhav with consular access. Pakistan blocked these attempts of the Indian government on the grounds that Jadhav was a serving naval officer, working for the RAW who was trying to create disturbances in Balochistan. Pakistan also produced a video of Jadhav confessing to being a RAW agent in the month of March. The video documented Jadhav’s revelations of the RAW’s plans of funding the Balochistan independence movement with the support of the Baloch insurgents.
However, India has denied that the former naval officer had any links to its government and has claimed that he was probably picked up from Iran. After examining the video, Hindustan Times in a report has stated that the footage has been edited in several places, where Jadhav’s facial expressions do not match the lines spoken and voice tone used. India has also claimed that the video may have been shot with the prisoner under duress, where Jadhav may have experienced torture at the hands of the Pakistani authorities. With both nations maintaining their respective stances, this issue seems to have reached a stage of deadlock.
The dispute was blown out of proportion when Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistan army’s publicity wing announced that Jadhav has been convicted of waging war against the country. The Pakistan Defence Chief also approved of this verdict. The Indian government has since then acted swiftly, summoning Abdul Basit, the High Commissioner of Pakistan to India, in an attempt to establish India’s stance on the issue, labelling Jadhav’s sentence as farcical and possibly a case of premeditated murder.
Response of the international community
Pakistan’s decision to hang Jadhav has been met with outrage and disapproval by the international community. Several experts in the US have expressed concern over the uncomfortable secrecy with which the trial was conducted as well as the lack of consular access made available to the prisoner. Amnesty International has condemned the sentence, declaring that Pakistan has failed to follow procedure when it comes to ensuring a prisoner’s rights and that this decision is a judicial failure of the military court system. Moreover, it is important to note that the trial concluded surprisingly fast, especially when this was not the case with the trials of the accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, where the trials were frequently postponed.
Many view Pakistan’s move as a deliberate step to use Jadhav as a tool against India. As put by Michael Kugelman, the deputy director and senior associate for South Asia, “At the same time, given how much India will want to ensure that Jadhav isn’t executed, Pakistan now has a very large bargaining chip at its disposal. Pakistan may want to use Jadhav as a trump card to get some type of major concession from India”
What the future holds
While it is clear that Pakistan has succeeded in coercing India into some serious diplomatic negotiation, it hasn’t executed the move well. Loopholes in the investigation and lack of international support have severely weakened Pakistan’s case. India has used this opportunity to display its dedication towards the dispensing of justice by bringing up the case of Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national who was given a fair trial on Indian soil. If Pakistan goes ahead with its decision of sentencing Jadhav, the nation will receive further criticism from the international community, giving India serious ammunition to press charges against the already weakened nation.
In the light of the current circumstances, Pakistan Defence Minister Khwaja Asif has announced that Jadhav has a period of 60 days to appeal against the death sentence. This tiny window of opportunity must be used quickly and cautiously by the Indian government-India must open backdoor negotiation channels to secure Jadhav’s release. It must also make a strong legal case for the mistreatment of the accused on Pakistani soil and put constant diplomatic pressure on Pakistani authorities.
Thus, it is clear that this issue may be the last straw, further worsening the already weak relations shared by India and Pakistan. The outcome of this conflict will be critical in determining the direction that Indo-Pak relations take in the future.
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