Fifth Columnist:Man who came from the cold
Apr 15 2017
One, once a spy’s cover is blown and he or she is captured, they are out on their own. The country, which the spy purportedly represents, refuses to acknowledge his existence, leaving him to the wolves. That way, the country concerned officially keeps its slate as well as the deniability factor clean, no matter what the charges.
Two, spying on enemies - and even friends - is an accepted fact of politics, which has over the centuries, acquired a legitimacy of its own. Among more civilised countries, as between the US and USSR at the height of the Cold War, spies once discovered were interrogated and then formally exchanged at the highest levels, no hard feelings. Given the background, there are several imponderables in the case of Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, India’s alleged spy, currently in Pakistani custody and the subject of worsening bilateral ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Jadhav was allegedly ‘caught’ by Pakistani authorities while on a trip to Balochistan, that country’s largest and most disturbed province and branded as a RAW agent. In a video recording made public by the Pakistan army last year, Jadhav is seen ‘confessing’ to organising sabotage and gun running in Balochistan at the behest of RAW, making it out to be a classic case of Indian interference in the affairs of its estranged neighbour.
After a military court in Pakistan this week awarded Jadhav the death penalty - which came as a shocker on both sides of the Radcliff Line - New Delhi has upped the ante demanding his release. But India’s position on the Jadhav case has been less than perfect. Hours after his arrest was announced last year in March, India did what most countries would have strictly desisted from doing.
While denying that Jadhav represented the Indian government in any capacity, it readily acknowledged that the man in question was indeed a former Indian naval commander. If that was the case, what was a former (Pakistan says he is a serving officer) naval commander doing in Balochistan?
Such a candid confession from India, virtually hours after his arrest, merely helped to ensure that 50 per cent of the Pakistani charge was accurate.
The then German ambassador to Pakistan, Gunter Mulack, one of the best-informed diplomats in the region, who had floated the theory that Jadhav was ‘sold’ to Pakistan’s ISI after being abducted from somewhere near the Iranian border, said as much.
According to him, India’s admission that the arrested man was a former Indian Navy officer, came too prematurely, and gave credence to the Pakistani version. But it would be incorrect to assume that Indian security agencies are merely sitting on their haunches. Pakistan confirmed on Thursday that a certain Col Muhammad Zahir Habib (retd) had gone missing near Lumbini in Nepal on the Indo-Nepal border, after he had been lured by, what his family now claims, was an Indian agent. While Pakistan has for obvious reasons decided the delink Jadhav and Habib, there is a good chance that (assuming Jadhav is alive) there could be an exchange of spies in the future.
The more intriguing question is how Kulbhushan fell into Pakistani hands. There are several versions being speculated in the world of spooks. One that he was lured into Chaman, an Afghanistan province neighbouring Pakistan, which has a long history of terrorist violence by someone, most likely a double agent.
An unsuspecting Kubhushan may have walked into the trap. If this version is correct, then he must have been under surveillance for quite some time. Two, and one which has wider ramifications, Jadhav was a legitimate businessman operating out of the Chabahar port in Iran, a port of strategic importance, which was built partially by India in the 1990s and one that has long been a centre of business, trade and navigation.
Its location gives India multiple advantages; it helps her bypass Pakistan into Afghanistan and Central Asia and is close to the Gwadar port in Balochistan, currently a hotbed of Chinese activity. Could it be that Kulbhushan was kidnapped from Iranian territory and whisked into Pakistan to make a case for Islamabad?
New Delhi is also in touch with Tehran, where Jadhav did his business. Iran has confirmed that Jadhav was a legitimate businessman. There are indicators that suggest that the case may not just be confined to India and Pakistan. His video last year was made public on the same day that Iranian president Hassan Rouhani made his first visit to Pakistan.
On that day, the then all-powerful Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif took up with him the case of RAW agents operating from Iranian soil, working against the interests of Pakistan. But when Rouhani was asked about this specific reference, he denied it outright, saying, “India is a good friend.”
This week, a group of serving and former Indian defence officials, among them Jadhav’s cadre mates at NDA Khadakwasla, have asserted that their former batchmate had indeed been abducted from Iran and whisked into Pakistan. Their source: former Iranian cadets at NDA, who claim to know more than what has appeared in the public domain.