Why India is watching and waiting in Kulbhushan Jadhav case

Harsha Kakar
Harsha KakarApr 15, 2017 | 18:30

Why India is watching and waiting in Kulbhushan Jadhav case

India raised a hue and cry once news of the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav was announced over a year ago. Apart from regularly issuing demands for consular access, India remained quiet, watching and waiting.

This silence and Pakistan’s attempts to gain international mileage on the arrest failing, it was compelled to up the ante. Once news of his death sentence was announced, India was suddenly awake.


Threats of action, counter measures and further distancing in relations has been the result. For once, all political parties joined hands to support the government. Officially, India is unaware of either his location or physical condition.

Simultaneously, there have been reports emanating in the Pakistani media about one of their former officers (Lt Col Habib) missing in Nepal. Pakistan claims he is retired and ventured into Nepal seeking better employment.

The leadership claims foreign intelligence agencies (read Indian) lured him into Nepal and have him in their custody. News reports in India on the other hand link this officer to the luring and arrest of Jadav.

While the Pakistani story has many loopholes which have even been questioned in their media, this double spy game has raised the stakes. India has neither acknowledged nor denied Pakistan's claims, maintaining a studied silence, letting the neighbouring country do the guess work and draw its own conclusions.

The worry in Pakistan is serious, as its missing officer has been and possibly remains an ISI agent. Pakistan claims his last reported location was Lumbini, a town close to the Indo-Nepal border. The Nepal police, whom Pakistan approached to locate the officer, state that the individual never boarded a flight for Lumbini and CCTV footage confirms he went missing from Kathmandu itself.


Pakistan, concerned about him being in Indian custody and India likely to seek a prisoner swap, hurriedly awarded Jadhav a death sentence, thus adding a collection of spokes to the case, including legal, to deny any possibility of repatriation in the immediate future.

In case Habib is in our custody, then it is a bonanza for us as it would enable the NIA to identify contacts and operatives working out of Nepal. A possible reason for any senior ISI operative suddenly being despatched to Nepal would be to restore links which were broken by the arrest and deportation of Shamsul Huda from Dubai. Huda was an ISI agent and the mastermind behind the Kanpur train tragedy. His arrest and the breaking down of his organisation have adversely impacted ISI’s Nepal links.

Pakistan realised that if India openly flaunts Habib, their so-called retired officer, an ISI agent in India’s perception, it would affect their credibility. They are more than just worried about his disappearance. By announcing the death sentence and proactively reporting the missing officer, Pakistan has indicated the importance of the mission entrusted to Habib.

They are also fearful of India making an announcement, which would reduce the importance they continue to give to the arrest of Jadhav and would openly announce the "spy-verses-spy" game. 


India is in no hurry to bring the arrest of Habib into the limelight, even if it has him in custody. If it doesn’t hold him, then it needs to tap its sources in Nepal for locating him. It would need to extract the maximum that it can from him and convey a silent message to Pakistan on his presence.

There is no requirement for India to make any international announcement, as Pakistani involvement in anti-India activities is known the world over. Neither do we need to put him on trial as a tit-for-tat case. He can remain behind bars for eternity as an undertrial, or till Pakistan realises and accepts an exchange.

For the Pakistani army to announce the death sentence, rather than the government of the country, implies two facts. Firstly, the army has proved that it is still the power behind the throne and hence can act unilaterally, and secondly, the ISI was rattled by the disappearance of Habib.

The Pakistani government was left to justify the army’s actions. Even providing consular access to Jadhav will only be with the army’s approval. The conduct of the trial by a military court was a hurried affair. Obtaining confessions under duress is always possible and even the strongest would break under some form of pressure.

Pakistan’s military courts have dispensed justice based on such confessions, without any legal sanctity, a major reason why it took the prodding of the army chief to push the opposition to support its revival. Even the Pakistan Supreme Court has maintained a studied silence, as challenging the army would never be in its favour.

Inadvertently, Pakistan’s announcement of the death sentence came amid increasing attacks on security forces by stone-throwers in Kashmir, especially the incident, viral on social media, where a CRPF jawan was manhandled but maintained his composure during the Srinagar by-polls.

While the Kashmir situation was increasing nationalism and simultaneously sidelining critics, including politicians, the Jadhav incident has only increased resolve within the nation against Pakistan. Anti-Pakistan sentiment has risen, hence those seeking resumption of talks have been pushed aside and ignored.

Social media is flooded with comments against universities where anti-national protests were earlier held, questioning their silence on the death sentence. The awarding of the sentence has brought even the worst critics of the government on the same page, thus providing support to the government on its Pakistan and possible future Kashmir policy.

While the battle for Jadhav’s release would continue with the government exploring multiple options, Pakistan would remain concerned about the whereabouts of Habib and the information he would have shared, provided he is in Indian custody.

Pakistan would not be in a hurry to carry out the sentence as many of its arrested nationals would face the same fate. However, India has united as never before, supporting the government’s policies on Pakistan and Kashmir.

Pakistan has inadvertently created a situation where anyone suggesting talks or restraint would be shunned from public life, hence pushing relations between the two nuclear armed nations to its lowest ebb in years.

Last updated: April 15, 2017 | 18:30
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