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India-Pakistan: A Spy Exchange in the Offing?

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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Faced with orders from the ICJ to review Kulbhushan Jadhav's case in the light of Pakistan breaching the Vienna Convention, Islamabad plans to use third country diplomatic assistance to explore the possibility of sending him home in return for an official admission from New Delhi that he was engaged in espionage, sources close to the Pakistan government were quoted as saying by the Indian newspaper Firstpost.

Firstpost reported that an Islamabad-based Pakistani official said that Jadhav is being held in an Inter-Services Intelligence-run facility in Rawalpindi, rather than a prison, even though he is awaiting execution. The Indian newspaper also quoted one senior Pakistani official as saying that Pakistan hopes the (release) offer will help bring about wider India-Pakistan talks, derailed since 2018. "The army understands that Pakistan's economy cannot be subjected to the risk of another military crisis with India", the official said. "They see talks as a way to finding some tactical breathing space." The deal Pakistan hopes to make builds on a secret diplomatic offer earlier made to New Delhi, the Indian paper claimed.

Documents submitted to the International Court of Justice show that Pakistan had first offered to extradite Jadhav in a letter dated 30 October, 2017, written soon after India moved the International Court of Justice against his conviction. "Without prejudice to the proceedings so far", the letter stated, "the Government of Pakistan is prepared to consider any request for extradition that the Government of India may make in the event that Commander Jadhav is considered to be a criminal under the law of India."

In other words, the paper argued, the letter constituted an offer to return Jadhav to India if New Delhi accepted his complicity in terrorism against Pakistan and was prepared to subject him to a criminal law process. New Delhi had, however, rejected Islamabad's offer, seeing it as a ruse to tarnish high officials in the military and intelligence services.

Islamabad's supplementary First Information Report filed on September 6, 2017 against Jadhav names National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, former naval chief Suresh Mehta, and former Research and Analysis Wing chief Alok Joshi as being among 15 "accomplices and facilitators". In a letter dated 11 December, 2017, New Delhi responded by describing Pakistan's extradition offer as "attempted propaganda", adding that it had no reason to believe Jadhav had committed any crime for which he could be tried. New Delhi, two Indian official sources said, would still treat any release offer with caution, if it involved an official admission that the country extended support to insurgent groups in Balochistan, Firstpost said.

The Indian government has so far declined to discuss several case-related issues, specifically, when Jadhav retired from naval service, saying it has no reason to do so until Islamabad provides consular access, and documentation related to the officer's trial.

Islamabad's extradition offer, interestingly, was made after the still-unexplained disappearance of former Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate officer Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammed Habib Zahir, who has gone missing from Lumbini, in Nepal, in April 2017. The Pakistan government believes Zahir, who travelled to Nepal lured by an $8,500 per month offer from Strategic Solutions Consultancy, a non-existent firm, had been kidnapped by Indian intelligence.

A day after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in India's favor in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar described the retired navy officer's detention as "illegal", and urged Islamabad to release and repatriate him immediately. Jaishankar, in Rajya Sabha, said the verdict was not only a vindication for Jadhav but also for all those who believe in the rule of law. He added, "Kulbhushan Jadhav is in illegal custody of Pakistan under fabricated charges. I call upon Pakistan to release and repatriate Jadhav."

How the Kulbhushan Jadhav saga unfolded

On March 3, 2016, Kulbhushan Jadhav, an alleged Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent operating under the cover name of Hossein Mubarak Patel, is arrested in a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan's Mashkel area for his alleged involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan.

A confessional statement is released by the Inter-Services Public Relations in March 2016 in which Jadhav claims to be a serving Indian Navy officer. New Delhi issues a statement the same day claiming that he was a former navy officer and is not currently serving. India denies any links with Jadhav and seeks consular access to him. It also says there is no evidence of his arrest in Balochistan.

On April 10, 2017, Jadhav is court-martialled and sentenced to death by a military tribunal for espionage. India deems the death penalty handed through a Field General Court Martial as "premeditated murder".

India moves the International Court of Justice against Pakistan on May 8, 2017, accusing the latter of violating the Vienna Convention in Jadhav's case.

On May 18, 2017, ICJ stays Jadhav's execution by Pakistan "till the final decision of this court".

The ICJ also rejects Pakistan's argument that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction in the matter, reasoning that it can hear the case because it involves, on the face of it, an alleged violation of one of the clauses of the Vienna Convention, which both Pakistan and India subscribe to and whose interpretation falls under its purview.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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