It is difficult to understand the political instincts of a dysfunctional state like Pakistan. Already our relations are very tense over the issue of Pakistani-sponsored terror attacks against India. How it serves Pakistan’s interest to stoke yet more tensions with India as it seeks to do over the Kulbhushan Jadhav case is difficult to grasp. But then Pakistan looks at its interests very differently from that of a normal state that would want to explore all reasonable ways to live in peace with its neighbours and not look for newer reasons to live in conflict with them .
Pakistan has tried to milk the year-old Jadhav case to prove to the world that India is involved in promoting terrorism on its soil, but has had no success. If it had solid proof of Jadhav’s spying activities it would have made it public. It is still relying on his confessional statement made a year ago when all those in this business know how such statements are extorted. Jadhav has been court-martialled by a military court and sentenced to death with the approval of Pakistan’s army chief. The announcement of this decision with huge political consequences has come from the Pakistani military and not the government which should ordinarily be responsible in any normal state for managing the political relationship with foreign powers.
Pakistan seems to have concluded that it can cope with any possible Indian reaction. It can reason that if India has not found an answer to Pakistan’s persistent proxy war against India and the killing of its military personnel, it can hardly come up with a deterrent riposte in the relatively less galling case of Jadhav. The judicial killing of an innocent ex-Indian serviceman is no worse than the killing of serving Indian military officers by Pakistani terrorists.
Pakistan has learnt from long experience that when India-Pakistan relations become tense its urgings for external intervention get more attention. Its western friends feel obliged to diplomatically intervene in order to prevent the situation between two nuclear armed powers from deteriorating beyond retrieval. They would advocate the resumption of bilateral dialogue, which is what Pakistan seeks. Pakistan would have got encouragement from the recent thoughtless statement of Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN, about US intervening to defuse a developing India-Pakistan conflict proactively in order to prevent escalation.
The testimony of the USCENTCOM (United States Central Command) chief before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9 in which he called India’s public policy to diplomatically isolate Pakistan troubling as it hindered any prospects of improved relations and raised the danger of an India-Pakistan conflict escalating into a nuclear exchange, would have emboldened it too. China’s obdurate support in shielding Pakistan on terrorism in the UN Security Council and recent Chinese fulminations against India on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh may also have buoyed the Pakistan army.
Pakistan would want to embarrass the Indian government and subject it to pressure by public opinion at home to obtain the release and return of Jadhav even if some concession had to be made as in the IC 814 case. They may have also calculated that so long as the fate of Jadhav hung in the balance, India would be constrained in its retaliatory choices as it would not want to jeopardise the chance of obtaining relief for him.
India’s appeal to foreign powers to put pressure on Pakistan on the Jadhav case would be contradicting its own long held position that India-Pakistan problems have to resolved bilaterally and expose us to advice to resume dialogue in line with Pakistan’s demand. Pakistan can live with the odium of acting against the canons of justice in sentencing Jadhav to death in an opaque legal process just as it has lived for years with accusations of complicity with terrorism even from its western benefactors, without inviting sanctions. Our appeal to international human rights organisations will not cut much ice with Pakistan either, as it is inured to their censure, besides our awkwardness in exposing ourselves to issue of our own differences with them.
By acting as it has done, the Pakistan military has also weakened the Nawaz Sharif government further and stymied any inclination it may have to improve relations with India under external prodding. The belief that General Bajwa would be an improvement over General Raheel Shareef has hopefully been buried in our minds.
Possible retaliatory measures by India on trade, visas, cross-LOC exchanges, reduction of the size of missions, expulsion of ambassadors and so on would not worry a country that has faced such situations before without being deterred from pursuing its rogue policies. The only really effective answer to Pakistan’s persistent provocations, including in the Jadhav case, is to suspend the Indus Waters Treaty until such time as Pakistan desists from the pre-mediated murder of Jadhav and otherwise conducts itself as a normal state.
Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary.
The views expressed are personal.