Friday, December 30, 2016

OP-ED: House of Wild Cards



Published by Global Affairs / Dec 2016


Written 2 days after the US Elections. Should've been published when it still had relevance.



To many he will represent the face of the Dark Side. The tragic contamination of the American Dream, a malware in the code; the alternate ending that never made the cut. Post Election America has currently misplaced the veneer of respectability needed to conduct business and assert its authority. And without these props, its least favorable attributes could become representative of its core values.

It is a twist; but not entirely unexpected. For there were undercurrents of inherent racism, growing paranoia, fear of the unknown already in play – fears that came from a very real place. And now those fears have assumed a tangible form.

What does this mean for the rest? The world seemed to take it personally. Even nations under the yoke of their own despots, puppets and monarchs; that had squandered human rights, relegated women and minorities to the medieval era and committed war time excesses felt America had gone too far.

But consider how the planet was already in a bad shape. Their President Elect did not put it there. And the people bought a racist, misogynistic pitch clamoring for change perhaps because that voice gave clear cut villains – the mainstream media and its associate biases and the establishment to take down.

So on that count he is in the clear. The incoming President did not break the world. But it is highly unlikely that he can offer it the hope it needs at the moment given how green he is regarding foreign policy matters; has made his kids a part of the transition team and how he appears to let emotions govern over reason.

His post win tweet that blamed the media of instigating the protests that had broken out in the aftermath served as a reminder of that. The second tweet that seemed to backtrack and praise the protestors did not help. Another arrived soon after mocking The New York Times for losing its subscriber base because of bias.

That he seems to be relapsing into old ways so soon after a gracious victory speech is a throwback to the original vision. The usual platitudes, ‘there, there it’s not the end of the world’ had failed that day. It had seemed like it on 9 November 2016 as a rush of dread, disbelief and uncertainty swept through the globe. American Talk show commentaries mirrored war time broadcasts. The look of horror was universal. And now that the unthinkable has happened the rest of the nations must scramble for a strategy. They must find a way to work around this glitch in the system and put personal differences aside.

The perception that the U.S. Foreign Policy towards Pakistan remains the same regardless of who wins the White House is doing the rounds amongst some Pakistani Americans who seemed bewildered at their countrymen’s reaction. This apprehension was as much about the ripple effects of Washington based swamp drains, should they ever be attempted, as it is about the forced conversion of the political arena into never-ending Reality TV.

Where do we go from here? No one really knows. They hadn’t prepared for this eventuality. Though it was one possible outcome however farfetched it may have looked at the time. It caught them by surprise, all except Russia and maybe India? One had allegedly hacked into the election; the other had its lobby pour millions into a billionaires’ campaign - allegedly.

Israel looked chirpy too. These 3 will probably be fine under the new guard. The rest are cautiously feeling their way into the new reality. This may be the first time people across the continental divide hope a candidate will renege on his aggressive campaign promises and backtrack on policies that threaten to widen the breach. This may be the only time third world nations felt the spotlight shift from their faulty moral compass. They see a nation divided; a world in flames and the leader of the free world now has the unenviable task of pulling the superpower back to the moral high ground.

Bigotry is a hallmark of decline. It cannot be recycled from the rhetoric filled speech that had invoked it for ratings. There are already unending reserves in the third word; and look where they are. The seeds sown in the West have already yielded its first harvest. And there is no way to prepare for that.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

OP-ED: Thank You Modi


Published in Voice of Vienna & Global Affairs (Oct 2016)


Narendra Modi made a telling remark regarding Baluchistan and Kashmir in his Independence Day speech (August 15, 2016). Something about the past few days and how the people of Balochistan, Gilgit, and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir thanked him. There was something else about the citizens of neighboring Pakistan expressing gratitude, and good wishes – which admittedly is an odd thing to do. “The people who are living far away, whom I have never seen, never met – such people have expressed appreciation for Prime Minister of India, for 125 crore countrymen. This is an honour for our countrymen.” The Indian Prime Minister has finally owned up in public to what Pakistan has been accusing India of doing all along – which is supporting and exporting terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

While China has pricked its ears, though the statement was directed at Pakistan, Baloch leaders in exile publicly thanked the speechmaker. And so should Pakistan. For, Modi – now playing the champion of human rights and a cheerleader for the Baloch right to freedom may have finally over-played his hand. There are many reasons why his innocuous reference set off firestorms across the divide, and beyond India’s Northern borders.

First, this was not said in the heat of the moment, nor was it a slip of the tongue. It was a part of the Premier’s Independence day speech. Second, Baluchistan is not disputed territory. Yes the belt has problems. It’s a restive province racked by insurgency suffering from bouts terrorism, separatist movements – violent uprisings, age old grievances. Lately it has shot to prominence because of CPEC– the famed Pak-China Economic corridor. So there’s a Chinese component in the regional mix, and the mention of Baluchistan at this stage is likely to raise alarm bells. And an Indian spy master was captured. So there is a foreign agency running the show in the background reportedly, and Modi’s provocative language only gives credence to Pakistan’s tale of woe that makes subservice activities by NDS, & RAW or Iran a key talking point on every front.

The question is whether they can use this leverage to push back and get more allies in their corner? It will not be an easy sell. Pakistan lacks China’s clout and India’s bluster at the moment. For Mr. Modi the fresh round of belligerence may simply be a throwback to 1972 when India re-carved the map of Pakistan. So this is hardly a new gambit. But was it wise to admit to cross border terrorism on such a public platform? In these 45 years India has cemented its position as a power player so careless admissions of guilt aren’t likely to affect its standing in the world, as can be seen from the general lack of outrage. But both nations have also acquired dangerous new toys of a nuclear variety since then, so such misadventures will be ill advised in the current scenario. And in their bid to checkmate Islamabad, Indians must now factor in Beijing which happens to be a long standing ally and now investment partner in Pakistan. While, Pakistanis may see it as confirmation of their deepest, darkest fears of Indian interference, Chinese scholars are reportedly ‘deeply disturbed’ by the implication of Modi’s speech. And that’s a first.

The apprehensions of a Chinese think tank may not seem like much. Since poking the Chinese Dragon is now part of the agenda as India enters into a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ with Vietnam with an expanding sphere of influence roundabouts the South China Seas. The impressive line-up of defense pacts and escalating war of the words by the Indian side undercut the development goals and peace initiatives in the neighborhood pipeline.

How that rant has been interpreted across the board is also worth looking at since India now seeks to expand its role as a traditional rival and neighborhood bully. Yet Indian aggression in the region becomes a good thing in the hand of the right spin-masters. Deflection is what it does best after all. “If there is one thing that the Modi government has telegraphed over its two years in power, it is that it will not sit quietly amid provocations from Pakistan, and that it will not hold back from taking a harder line when the need arises,” says Michael Kugelman, Snr. Associate for south and southeast Asia at the Washington DC-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar.

There is more. “Pakistan has been unusually assertive about India’s current Kashmir crises,” declares Christine Fair, the associate professor at Georgetown University. “I think reminding Pakistan to mind its own business is refreshing. I think Modi has been overly accommodating of Pakistani hijinks. Such a move is well overdue….” She later adds that “the Pakistan army does not want peace. Indian ‘mombatti wallah’ and ‘aman ki asha’ types need to understand this.”

The locals seem to second their hardliner stance. “Excited over Modi’s new policy-putsch”, Swapan Dasgupta says: “The prime minister’s outreach to the peoples in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan assumes importance. Modi hasn’t signalled India’s direct involvement in their battles, he has merely signalled the recovery of our natural frontiers. This outreach now needs to be complimented with institutional capacity building and, most important, the enlargement of our mental horizons. The reach of India must transcend its national borders, as it always had."

There’s even a suggestion of upping the nuclear deterrence against China on land and seas to counter the northern threat. So there might be a potential arms race to look forward too. And finally they bring out Brahumdagh Bugti who has attributed the terrible suicide attack on Pakistani citizens to army excesses for the benefit of Indian Express. “…everyday, we receive news of dead bodies of Baloch people being killed…in Quetta, you saw the whole cream of legal community being killed few days ago. This has to stop, and India can do a lot.” Bugti Jr is the exiled leader of Balch Republican Army (BRA), and grandson of Akbar Bugti, and the DD News team was flown in to Geneva to air his grievances / slander which according to The Telegraph is an unusual step.

The smear campaign, along with Mr. Modi’s strange outburst highlights an interesting change in the geo-political dynamics. While India may be neither rising, nor shiny – it has managed to raise its profile with some well-timed strategic alliances. Perhaps the LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) that allows the U.S and India to use each other’s military bases and logistical support as part of the ‘defining partnership of the 21st century’ is at the core of this bluster. US Secretary of State - John Kerry’s odd insistence on Pakistan joining the fight against terrorism during his visit to Delhi for the ‘India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue (S&CD)’ has only armed their propaganda machine. Fortunately, Kerry remembered the blowback and terrible cost of war paid by the people of Pakistan the next day during a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology IIT. But it had already prompted headlines like ‘Pakistan gets a US-India smackdown’. But even when Pakistan’s concerns get buried under mountains of misinformation and distrust – the fact remains. She now has a smoking gun.

Thanks to Modi and his advisors.

Image Link


Friday, September 16, 2016

DISCLAIMER on that KASHMIR thing.


Please Be Advised: The Kashmir Article in Global Affairs ( Sep 2016) published under my name is NOT by me. This is the 2nd time this has happened. Terrible Oversight. I have never written on Kashmir. DO not intend to start now.

OP-ED: Blurred Lines

Published in Global Affairs

The border, known as the Durand Line that runs between Pakistan and Afghanistan is 2450 Km long and was drawn by the British, accepted by Afghanistan and inherited by Pakistan. The agreement came into effect during the Great Game in 1893 and had held during the third Anglo Afghan War. The subsequent partition did not void the contract as far as Pakistan was concerned. By 1949 however, Afghanistan had decided to view the boundary as an imaginary line. And therein lies the rub. Because 21st century security challenges are unlike any other and engaging in political brinkmanship at such a time only weakens both parties.

Notwithstanding Kabul’s refusal to acknowledge the divide, the border status has been internationally recognized. Over the years this ‘imaginary line’ has been used for everything from illegal trafficking and trade to delivering aid packages for Mujahedin, export/import of radical ideas and hosting a mostly one sided refugee exchange program. According to one estimate, Pakistan was saddled with 5 million Afghans at one time. The open door policy that served the Af-Pak cause during the Cold War is no longer valid. Post 2001, the porous nature of the border quickly became a problem and as sanctuaries emerged on both sides of the divide, Pakistani cities turned into battlegrounds while Afghan based safe havens became a hazard for allied forces.

The Torkham check-post lies between Peshawar (Pakistan) and Jalalabad (Afghanistan) and the unchecked spread of refugees and their role as cover for terrorists has underscored the need for implementing stricter border management protocols. And it is about time more stringent border controls are activated. Meanwhile additional checkpoints are being installed and work on fencing is currently underway. Repartition of refugees is also in the cards. Under the new rules, visiting Afghans will need to get their paperwork in order. And the free pass waved by tribal communities will be revoked.

Kabul remains unhappy with this turn of events. They have expressed their displeasure in a myriad of ways – none of them subtle. A check-post constructed at Angoor Ada (a small hamlet situated on the Durand Line) handed over by Pakistan supposedly as a goodwill gesture, and promptly closed by Afghanistan was their way of pushing back. The deployment of tanks along with armored personnel carriers in the wake of mounting tensions due to disputes over the construction of the Torkham gate in May 2016 was another. The resulting standoff left many on both sides stranded. And finally, the June attack by Afghan forces that resulted in heavy casualties, and left a Pakistani soldier dead. The firing was unprovoked according to Pakistan.

There is a historical context to this display of belligerence. There was the initial snub by Afghanistan when it vetoed Pakistan’s entry into the UN. Saving them from Soviet tyranny, and giving Afghans a second home may have won Pakistan some points. Any gratitude they may have felt probably ended with the Taliban takeover. The fresh cycle of hostility could have several triggers. Kabul has been a little preoccupied with making new alliances and soon Afghanistan will no longer be hampered by its landlocked status. Economic incentives offered by Indian sponsored, Iranian based Chabahar Port that could alter its dependency on Pakistani trade routes is set to be a game changer.

In a recent talk show a panel of analysts proposed that it is time Pakistan quantified its decades’ long contributions that have sustained Afghanistan’s teetering economy in terms they will understand. Put a dollar figure on it they suggest. And though it sounds cold, it is a language they believe the Afghan nation will respond to. Because, the stakes have never been this high; and petty arguments over something as trivial as check-posts leaves their people vulnerable to a common foe (ISIS).

Also, when it comes to territorial matters, Afghans do not have a legal leg to stand on. This refusal to recognize borders of another country coupled with the shared heritage and challenging terrain poses a dilemma for gatekeepers. For the Pashtuns living on both sides, these lines are mere formality. The possibility of having their lives upended by a piece of barbed wire will not be an easy sell. But this unfettered access has come with a price.

It is not the idea of drug runners or job stealing Afghans that keep ordinary Pakistanis awake at night. They fear what lies on the other side especially after the unthinkable happened on December 16, 2014 with the APS massacre of school children and later with the Bacha Khan University attack. In both cases the terrorists are believed to have used these lax controls to go back and forth. The open border often means that ‘Most Wanted’ men like TTP’s (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) Fazlullah can flee to Afghanistan where they direct attacks on Pakistan from the comfort of their Afghan homes and vice versa.

The same analysts believe this sudden urgency in securing borders comes on the heels of potential successes in the battlefield. Having cleared the area, Operation Zarb - e - Azb now aims to cement its hold on its territory. They also argue that as long as the refugee crisis stays unresolved, fencing initiatives will remain ineffective since it will be difficult to limit the cross border movement.

Resolving the migrant crisis will, therefore, be a crucial component in any security plan. Getting Kabul on board with the fencing program will be another. Since it serves both their interests, one would imagine that they would be amenable to keeping the local terror contained. Such walls could be their best bet. Manning them will ensure that neither country can assign blame to the other and can finally turn its attention on plugging the religious fissures within. Stopping the free flow of terrorists is only the first step. Once the access is cut off, the homegrown terror networks will have to be confronted - again. Here they will have their work cut out for them. The disenfranchised segments of society at the receiving end of drone attacks need to be reintegrated in society. Also, governing these lawless frontiers will require a framework both can agree to.

In an ideal world, this could be the beginning of a beautiful round of friendship and cooperation. In restive regions such as these, the best one can hope for is a semblance of civility for the sake of survival. The fate of these nations is now tied to one ‘imaginary line’. And the sooner they come to an understanding, the quicker they can address the nation building part of the equation where education, employment and energy needs are to be tackled on war footing for the military gains to take root.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

OP-ED: Modi’s Magic Act


Published in Global Affairs / Aug 2016


Mr. Modi sold India – as progressive, liberal, enlightened - shining ever so brightly; everything a carefully nurtured democracy ought to be. His bedazzled audience might find no flaw in this beautifully crafted, perfectly airbrushed version. The Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to the United States further burnished his nation’s image as an investment haven, strategic buffer and new best friend / ally. Because it wants the world to buy into its noble agenda and a lot is riding on the lavish spectacle on display for western consumption.

Modi’s overtures to the American people appeared to be well received. He conferred with Obama, addressed the joint session of U.S. Congress, casually waved shared ideals to establish rapport and received numerous standing ovations. The media actually kept a tally.

He was the man of the hour whose work ethic and rags to riches story must have resonated with the western world. His pitch perfect performance was hailed as a masterstroke that washed away India’s appalling human rights record, occasional curbs on free speech, deepening religious fissures, accusations of exporting cross-border terrorism, and random spy related scandals. There’s an added complication where not too long ago their PM was barred from entering the U.S. for his role in the aforementioned human rights violation. He also faced a 10-year ban from some former colonial masters (U.K). Both have been revoked in light of Mr. Modi’s new found mantle of premiership.

His legacy as an RSS activist – an organization that has been outlawed thrice and described by Foreign Policy magazine as “a quasi-fascist body prepared to use violence to achieve its goal of ‘purifying’ India of non-Hindu elements' lies forgotten. As does the fact that the Prime Minister’s BJP party comes with a political wing while using VHP as the religious chapter that subscribes to the Hindutva ideology – equating the word Indian with being Hindu.

That Modi would prefer to be seen as a thing of the past. This Modi can be seen jet-setting through Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, US, all the way to Mexico, keeping Putin on speed dial, and cleverly avoiding recent references to a high ranking Indian official allegedly caught instigating terrorism in neighboring Pakistan. Today he is on a whirlwind tour rallying support for India’s bid for membership in the coveted (Nuclear Suppliers Group) NSG club, a grandmaster of diplomacy, adept in the art of deal making.

Nudging the biggest democracy to the top of the strategic pyramid requires a degree of guile. But its ascent has been marred by waves of intolerance, coupled with evidence of fostering regional disturbances that are impossible to ignore. The beatific likeness projected to the world shows a land of possibilities united under the banner of prosperity. It is a different face when stripped of the free speech illusion and noisy declaration of peaceful aspirations.

It is one that harbors deep-seated prejudices and ancient rivalries responsible for spurts of religious persecution that target Christians and Muslims alike. That provides safe havens to Hindu extremists held responsible for countless terror acts wrongly attributed to other faiths and other nations. And that continues to malign its neighbors for much of its own failings.

The most recent attack on India’s soil which targeted an air base and where Pakistan was exonerated by Indian investigators serves as an example. This ability to reshape perceptions regarding the victim / perpetrator card and mobilize global opinions in its favor is one of its many talents.

Under Modi’s governance, India has apparently witnessed a surge in defamation suits, sedition charges, contempt cases and intimidation tactics against activists, students, scholars and musicians. It hides a restive civil society where more than 41 intellectuals have returned awards, citing “rising intolerance and growing assault on free speech, after one of their own was murdered. It tends to gloss over cases of communal violence where men have been lynched by mobs for daring to impinge upon the scared tenets of Hinduism. Where being cattle traders can become a crime. And consumption of beef can trigger a violent backlash overturning the inter-faith harmony argument.

Up close India appears to be no better than the South Asian neighbors held in contempt for their bigotry laden, fear inducing visuals that are given round the clock coverage. Such worrisome trends belie the secular colours India has draped itself in.

A nation waving the freedom flag leads the Global Slavery Index with 18.35 million in bondage. Where gender based violence often ends up as lead headlines. 79 percent women have admitted to facing public harassment and award winning documentaries that tried to amplify an ordinary Indian’s outrage get banned; its maker threatened with arrest and forced to flee the country. And where nuns associated with RSS schools who dream of a Muslim-free, Congress-free India continue to have a platform.

Can they be dismissed as isolated voices that do not represent an increasingly prevalent mindset? Fledgling democracies like Pakistan have their fair share of crazies who regularly steal the spotlight damaging its already battered reputation - but letting the seeds of fanaticism grow unchecked is bound to diminish India’s famed shine as well. And while India seeks the most flattering lighting to position its causes, the backdrop remains bleak.

BJP government functionaries have been accused of tacitly supporting Hindu Nationalist groups - and India recently denied visas to USCIRF – (US Commission on International Religious Freedom). USCIRF’s travel itinerary reportedly includes worst offenders like Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China or Pakistan. A study referring to mounting levels of religiously motivated violence was cited as the reason for the blockade. They say 69 NGO’s had their funding frozen, 30 of which were working for minority welfare. Organizations like Greenpeace invoked the ire of authorities for being “a threat to national economic security.” They also say that up to 10,000 civil society groups with revoked licenses worked in health or environmental sectors.

These are hardly the traits of democratic institutions, especially those who have vaulted to global prominence on the strength of democratic credentials courtesy of some savvy marketing and now campaign for top-tier spots in a changing world order.

Such incidents have not dampened western enthusiasm for Indian wares or affected its privileged status. China remains a stumbling block in the NSG saga. Elsewhere it appears to be barreling its way through opposition under a Modi led juggernaut with an imposing looking wish list in tow.

Thus far, India has managed to snag a place in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) – an international anti proliferation grouping, partnered with Iran for the development of Chabahar port to offset the neighboring Pak - China Economic Corridor, floated the vision of a Digital India and found time to inaugurate the biggest dam in Kabul estimated at $ 290 million.

And if India’s rapidly expanding footprint is viewed with trepidation by its closest neighbours, it is with good reason. A nation that now commands the largest stage and has the loudest voice can abuse this outreach to scuttle competition on a whim. Mr. Modi has already used the U.S. Congressional platform to pat their law-makers on the back for their decision to block the sale of 8 F-16’s to Pakistan which happens to be India’s traditional rival. Not exactly neighbourly conduct since the neighbour in question happens to be on war footing clearing out terrorist cells at the moment while bearing the brunt of the so called GWOT.

Modi’s charm offensive and entrepreneurial spirit aside, US Senate has yet to affirm its status as a‘global strategic and defence partner.’ But world leaders under India’s spell do not seem to care about what lies behind the curtain. Mr. Modi’s act has many takers. However, a nation that fails to confront its domestic demons can hardly be expected to play a meaningful role in ushering in a new era of economic bliss or regional stability. And India’s mad dash to the top can only open more breaches in the ever widening sub-continental rift.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

OP-ED: Pakistan: on Getting the RAW End of the Deal


Published in Global Affairs / July 2016 Edition


Pakistan made a troubling discovery in its backyard recently. Notwithstanding his mild mannered appearance, Kulbhushan Jadhav (sometimes spelt as Yadav) has been positively identified as an Indian national, a Commander in the Indian Navy with a preference for aliases. He is currently using the name Hussein Mubarak Patel.

Initial interrogation had also brought to light his role as the ring leader of a large network of spies and saboteurs operating indiscriminately in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and the city of Karachi at the behest of the premier Indian Intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

From the Pakistani vantage point Jadhav’s arrest qualified as an intelligence coup. The Indian reaction predictably was one of denial. Jadhav was immediately disavowed but in the face of compelling evidence, they grudgingly acknowledged him as one of their own even as they continued to maintain that he had retired from the Indian Navy and had no connection with RAW. In the spy lexicon Jadhav was “burnt’, but only partially. Subsequent demands to gain consular access to him were rejected by Pakistan and rightly so; whether they relent should India accept Jadhav’s role as an agent is a different matter.

Admittedly, Jadhav was surprisingly chatty for a spy. And though he gave up more than his name, rank, serial number & alias, his damning testimony that implicated his country in state sponsored terrorism has been met with icy disdain by India and cynicism by the western world. His video-taped confession has been dismissed as ‘staged managed’. Media bytes painting Jadhav as a victim that allege he was abducted by banned outfits and sold to the ISI were prominently aired in the international and local news channels.

Jadhav’s statement, if accepted at face value could shed some light on the covert ops used to checkmate India’s arch-nemesis and keep Pakistan on its war weary toes. This could be prompted by an ongoing bid to stake a claim on the Central Asian economic pie created by the development of the Indian financed Chabahar port in Iran and the Chinese sponsored CPEC in Pakistan that offers revised trade routes and reshuffled priorities. One gives landlocked Afghanistan an alternate commercial lifeline removing its dependency on neighboring Pakistan, based on the recently finalized Indo-Iran-Afghan trilateral deal worth $ 500 million that has been thirteen years in the making. The other expands Chinese trade links in the region as China embarks upon the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative which puts it on surer footing as far as its future energy needs are concerned.

At least that is what the blueprints imply.

The year 2004 marks the beginning of Balochistan’s woes - it is when Chinese engineers first came under fire in Gawadar and the Baloch uprising suddenly escalated. Incidentally, Jadhav also claims to have been an active agent within this timeframe initiating a reexamination of this troubled region’s laboured passage to prosperity via CPEC led ventures. While investors are engaged in building bridges, roads and communication networks set to reshape the prospects of conflict ridden nations, hostile agencies have a different agenda. As these landmark agreements come into existence, and new alliances unfold, fear of interference and sabotage by countries opposed to CPEC reigns supreme.

Jadhav’s paper trail leads to India, but in this case at least, the Iranian connection cannot be ruled out. The presence of an “Indian businessman” with Iranian visa in their portion of Balochistan puts Iran in a bind, since he was supposedly apprehended at the Saravan border crossing between Iran and Pakistan. Chabahar apparently served as Jadhav’s base of operations. Could he really have operated so freely in and out of Iran without the active or passive connivance of the Iranian intelligence?

For Pakistan to publicly assign Tehran an active role in the sordid affair would put further strain on a relationship that appears to be heading south. Post sanctioned Iran has been busy mapping a future with Indian investment. Both nations’ interests have aligned, which makes them allies. Afghanistan’s fortunes are now being hitched to this Indian led bandwagon. Meanwhile, the Pak-China Economic Corridor estimated at $ 46 billion ensures a prolonged Chinese engagement in Pakistan. Their sprawling vision provides a direct land link to the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea, enabling its maritime trade to soar while stabilizing Pakistan’s floundering economy in the process. It also speaks of their confidence in Pakistan’s ability to fend off extremists (home grown / foreign funded) and appease a disgruntled Baloch population to lessen the number of angry pawns used against the state.

Reports suggesting that Jadhav was apprehended on March 3, 2016, have created a flurry in the Indian quarters especially since news of his arrest first broke on March 29, 2016, at a press conference. India uses this gap to poke holes in Pakistan's version. Coercion tactics have been implied to explain the time lapse. They fail to realize that the delay between arrest and disclosure is the norm rather than the exception in their business and it stays in effect until all actionable intel has been extracted to avoid tipping off possible associates. That delay only strengthens Pakistan’s case.

An Indian paper cites the abundance of enemies willing to do Pakistan a bad turn making New Delhi’s job easier. One would assume that hiring hit-men also requires handlers on the ground; and someone with maritime experience like Jadhav does fit the profile. Given that his antecedents are a matter of public record confirming his status as a bona fide Indian citizen and an active, or as Indians claim, a senior retired Indian Naval officer, his forays into Balochistan from Iran are hard to explain – unless it was in the capacity of a roving spy.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, the capture of spy pigeons gets more traction. A year ago, one was arrested on charges of espionage in India and jailed. It made headlines across the globe. The bird was accused of having ties with the premier Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. News of the capture of a high level Indian operative in Pakistan, however, barely made ripples, despite the fact that this one sang like the proverbial canary. RAW has come under suspicion time and again on charges of fermenting strife in Pakistan. Of late, there have been whispers about an NDS (Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency) component in the mix. No evidence has ever come to the fore, till now.

Credibility is a currency Pakistan needs to stock up on. Its efforts in the war have been undermined, aspirations as a regional player openly challenged and its ability to craft a coherent counter terrorism policy capable of wielding military might and political engagement questioned at every turn.

That said, the Pakistani intelligence community has been vindicated by seizing the mastermind bent upon destabilizing the state. It can allow itself a small victory lap. Jadhav was their ‘aha’ moment. Because of this behind the scene grunt work, the Indian conglomerate reportedly linked to decades of carnage in Pakistan now lies exposed. Regardless of the stand India takes in public, this is a smoking gun it will find impossible to defend in private. Jadhav’s capture and dismantling of his syndicate conveys a strong message to the Chinese about Pakistan’s resolve, vigilance and determination to ensure success of the CPEC.

It also underscores the evolutionary nature of modern warfare now conducted on two distinct and varied fronts – the battlefield and the media. In the current proxy war being waged by India against Pakistan, the latter has made substantial gains in the battlefield but lags behind its adversary in media warfare. And any scenario where India rules the air-waves uncontested will inevitably end up tipping the scales in their favour. For the heroic accomplishments of Pakistan’s military and the civilian Law Enforcing Agencies (LEAs) to be translated into ultimate victory, this gap need to be narrowed down substantially – and soon.

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