India has three option which can help New Delhi to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back home
Can we get Kulbhushan Jadhav back? If so, how?
We have tried one way. At the debate in parliament, the entire opposition joined hands with Sushma Swaraj in proclaiming Kulbhushan’s innocence, condemning Pakistan’s military-run kangaroo court, and demanding Kulbhushan’s repatriation. In response, Pakistan’s opposition parties combined with their government in proclaiming Jadhav’s guilt, upholding Pakistan’s Army Act, and demanding that the prescribed legal processes be pursued to uphold the military court’s sentence of death. Outcome: the Pakistanis have him; we don’t.
So we must find another way. That might be to check out the relevant international conventions, find one that both Pakistan and India have ratified, hire the best international law attorneys available, and seek justice for Kulbhushan through due process.
A second way is to appeal to the international community. We have already spread the word around the world about how Pakistan is a global terrorism sponsor, how there is a “Deep State” in Pakistan that is unrestrained in the nefarious work it does.
The world has politely listened. They have other interests that go back to the last phase of the twin movements for Independence and Partition. The British establishment believed their crowning achievement to have been the unification of a congeries of disparities into a single nation; the British defense authorities were, however, much more concerned with the military opportunities that a divided sub-continent would offer British global interests. They argued that British geo-political hegemony in the region stretching from Afghanistan through Iran to the Gulf to Iraq, Jordan, Palestine and Israel crucially depended on granting Pakistan a separate state because that state would be happy to offer the West military facilities that Nehruvian India would doubtless deny them. The Defense view won out and Pakistan was granted. In the last 70 years, Pakistan has thwarted India and cocked its snook at us precisely because its geo-strategic position makes it vital for the West, and now, the Russian Federation, to cultivate our neighbour, while China uses its vice-like grip on Pakistan to outwit India. It is unlikely that any of them will be moved by the brilliant forensic and persuasive diplomatic arguments of our Foreign Office to save Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav (Rtd).
So, if neither unanimous domestic outrage in India nor the stern reach of international law nor the global outreach of our well-travelled Modi can rescue Kulbhushan, is there no hope for him? Oddly enough, yes. For there are at least three options we have that might yet save the young, 46-year old former naval commander who has been under Pakistani incarceration since April 2016, that is, since about one whole year.
First, that the appeals process provided for in Pakistani legislation and the ultimate power of the Pakistan President to commute judicial sentencing might be availed of by us to ensure the best available international legal assistance to Kulbhushan Jadhav. Media reports there suggest that Pak system won’t allow any of its leading lawyers to take Kulbhushan’s case. Our mission in Islamabad and our formidable bank of international law experts might perhaps be leveraged to see how our poor retired naval commander might be rescued through top-class legal intervention. The excellent relations that both India and Pakistan enjoy with Iran make us inclined to believe that an outstanding Iranian law team, rather than an attempt to cobble together one in the British Inns of Court, might provide the answer.
Second, some quiet bilateral diplomacy. Rumour has it that our two National Security Advisers, Doval and Janjua, enjoy a warm personal rapport. If so, then there is no time like the present for them to secretly explore what Pakistan might do, without apparently giving away anything to India, to get Jadhav released or clandestinely shunted back to India. After all, there is a recent precedent. On the day of the “surgical strike”, 29 September 2016, the Indian jawan, Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan, strayed across the Line of Control and was picked up by the Pakistani armed forces. There ensued talks between the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both countries despite their respective governments not talking to each other. In the third week of January, the unpublicized DGMO-level dialogue resulted in Pakistan returning Babulal Chavan to Indian custody under cover of the face-saving claim that Babulal had not “inadvertently” but “voluntarily” crossed the LoC! Pakistan may be lying through its teeth, but at least Chandu Babulal Chavan is back home.
Critical point about Babulal finding his way home is not due to some Pakistani Bajrangi Bhai, but to what the Indian army officially attributed in this context to “the existing hotline and scheduled DGMO talks”. It shows that if we were to establish appropriate institutional mechanisms to deal with such incidents, Kulbhushan Jadhav and other such unfortunates might yet find justice without loud diplomatic protest or public lamentation. We need such institutional mechanisms and channels to work out constructive solutions to serious conundrums. That could inevitably be one outcome of “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” negotiations on outstanding issues with Pakistan.
A third option might be to deploy our secret service to assist Kulbhushan Jadhav in a dramatic escape from detention. Alternatively, such assistance might be organized through the underground. There is the precedent of George Blake, a British national who was unearthed as a Soviet spy in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in a really high-security prison outside London, Wormwood Scrubs. Five years later, he was helped by two fellow inmates to escape from Wormwood Scrubs. He fled to East Germany and went from there to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union became the Russian Federation, Blake remained a celebrity in Moscow, where he has happily spent more than half his long life that has now crossed 95 years. It is said that he continues to be a major player in the Russian secret service. Neither Britain nor the Soviet Union, nor Britain and the Russian Federation have ever considered severing relations with each other or refusing to talk to one another over the Blake affair. Can we similarly spring Jadhav from Pakistani custody? We rather doubt it.
That’s why; one might turn to another option that remains: a spy swap. In this regard, we draw attention to a story that has been hugely played up in the Pakistani media but dealt with rather more circumspectly by our own otherwise “breaking news” hunting media-maniacs: the disappearance into thin air of a retired Pakistani lieutenant colonel soon after he landed in Kathmandu. According to Pakistani news reports, he had been lured to Kathmandu by club-class return tickets and a job offer of $8,500 a month. We may have absolutely nothing to do with the incident, but there is speculation that it was this disappearance that triggered the death sentence on Kulbhushan. In case we have this retired Pakistani lieutenant colonel in our custody, can we consider swapping a retired lieutenant colonel for a retired naval commander? Or, alternatively, any other equivalent Pakistani spy we have ferreted out? It is entirely possible that we do not have any Pakistani spies to exchange. But if that is the case, it would imply either that the Pakistanis are such good guys that they send no spies to India – or that our agencies are so incompetent as to have never caught one.