Will Jadhav's execution trigger India-Pakistan war or race for abduction of soldiers?
The ball is firmly placed in Pakistan's court.
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Unquestionably, the Kulbhushan Jadhav episode is the most serious flashpoint in India-Pakistan bilateral relations.
If the former Indian naval officer, whom Pakistan has dubbed as an Indian spy working against Pakistan's national interests, is executed, it will inevitably exacerbate the already hostile relations between the two nuclear armed neighbours and may even see a repeat of a 2001-2002, situation when India had deployed its strike forces along the Pakistan border in full combat readiness.
This is not a cry wolf situation. There is a serious danger of a full blown military conflict between the two arch rivals that have already fought three wars, apart from the limited war in Kargil in 1999.
This is clear from the fact that while the two sides are engaged in a diplomatic and legal battle in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague over Jadhav, the Indian Army has just conducted exercises in Rajasthan deserts with over 20,000 soldiers of X Corps participating in these war games, along with tanks, artillery and advanced sensors.
Irrespective of the fact what the ICJ's final verdict in the Jadhav case is, (the ICJ has already stayed the execution), irrespective of Pakistan’s lame duck arguments before the ICJ, irrespective of the fundamental question whether Jadhav was actually a spy or whether he is being framed up, and irrespective of the gross irregularities by Pakistan in conducting the sham trial in a most opaque manner, the case has already put the India-Pakistan bilateral relations in a snake pit.
The ball is firmly placed in Pakistan's court. It is up to Pakistan to prove whether it wants to continue to push the envelope and play to its domestic constituency of three Ms – mullas, military and militants - or whether better sense prevails in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. India won’t mind sabre-rattling by Pakistan as long as the Jadhav episode concludes with a positive denouement from the Indian perspective.
Also, India shouldn’t grudge Pakistan’s glee in throwing barbs at India in various international platforms as long as India meets its prime objective of having Jadhav back safely.
The Indian political and strategic establishments are under no illusion that Pakistan will adhere to established international norms and that Pakistan has scant regard for such norms.
Pakistan has thus far behaved in a manner it is known for - boorish, vengeful and deliberately provocative. A classic case of Pakistan’s boorish diplomacy towards India came into full play in a lesser known incident some years ago, when Pakistan sent 50 dirty, hungry barking dogs by train to India after one dog accidentally boarded the Pakistan-bound train from India and the Pakistani authorities in their wisdom determined that it was a deliberate provocation from the Indians which needed to be responded to in more than equal measure!
Unfortunately, Pakistan remains caught in the same time warp and the same mindset. The portends are even murkier. Pakistan’s India policy is set to toughen further, now that its strategic relationship with China has got a powerful boost in the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC.
Now the question is what are the options before India to ensure that Jadhav's life is saved and he is brought back safely? As long as Jadhav is alive, and one hopes that Pakistan’s assurances to the ICJ in this regard are truthful, India can exercise only diplomatic leverages.
India can and should exert enormous pressure on Pakistan through such global powers as the US-led western community, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Japan - perhaps in that order.
These days if there is one nation whose wish will be a command for Pakistan, it is undoubtedly China. However, the China option is no longer available for India as India-China bilateral relations are currently in a deep freeze.
The West will intervene only when it sees an immediate threat to world peace with high possibility of an armed conflict between India and Pakistan. The West hasn’t waded into the frame in Jadhav’s case because it doesn’t see such a threat as of now. That’s why India has conducted mammoth military exercises near the Pakistan border in Rajasthan.
These war games should be seen against this backdrop, as this is India's way of signalling to the West that India's patience is running low and the West should take the possibility of India exercising a military option seriously, should Pakistan go ahead in implementing Jadhav's death sentence given by a kangaroo court in closed-door proceedings without consular access to Jadhav despite 17 on-record requests by India in the last 15 months.
The Pakistani intent is quite clear from the fact that while Jadhav’s death sentence was awarded by a four-star general, the appellate authority is headed by a two-star general! Which country in the world can see a junior officer overturning the verdict of a military court led by a senior officer?
If Pakistan goes ahead with the murder of Jadhav, whether it triggers a war or not, one thing is quite certain. It will definitely trigger a race between India and Pakistan for abductions of retired soldiers.
There is a strong possibility that this race may already have started. Consider the case of Mohammed Habib Zahir, a retired Lt Colonel of the Pakistan Army who, according to Pakistani media, was abducted by Indian agencies from Lumbini, Nepal, last month as a counter to the Jadhav case!