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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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