It was a welcome development. Used to feuding with each other on the smallest pretext, our parliamentarians were speaking in one voice for a change. The reason? A military court in Pakistan has awarded a death sentence to Kulbhushan Jadhav on allegations of spying and this brought our MPs close to boiling point. Their anger was justified and their solidarity commendable.
Will the collective rage of our parliamentarians and ministers be enough to save Jadhav’s life? Will he manage to return unscathed to his family in Mumbai?
These questions need to be raised because even before the parliament’s proceedings could end, Nawaz Sharif’s reply had come with an underlying threat: Our army is prepared. He was responding to a statement by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj that Jadhav was India’s son and all efforts will be made to bring him back whatever it took. That if anything happened to Jadhav, Pakistan should be ready to face serious consequences for our bilateral relationship.
We should not forget that before this, in the Sarabjit Singh case, India has been a victim of Pakistan’s treachery. At a time when the Indian government was building pressure on Islamabad saying that Sarabjit was an ordinary citizen who had strayed into Pakistan by mistake, a few prisoners were carrying out a life-threatening assault on him in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail. Were the prison officials so stupid as to not realise the significance of this prisoner for India-Pakistan ties? Clearly these killers had the government’s backing. A day after the incident, an Indian prisoner assaulted Sanaullah Haq in Jammu jail. After slipping into a coma for a few days, Haq died. Now it was the turn of Pakistan to make a counter-allegation since Haq was a Pakistani citizen who had been arrested on charges of involvement in terror acts.
Who says international diplomacy is a subject that is discussed only behind closed doors? At times, we see it taking place in prisons as well.
Here I must make it clear that the Kulbhushan Jadhav issue is much complicated than Sarabjit Singh’s. Jadhav was in Iran on a business trip. He was kidnapped from there and brought to Pakistan. After his ‘arrest’ Pakistani agencies put out a video where he was seen ‘confessing’ he was a RAW agent. But his swollen face and the jumps in the video gave away the flimsy nature of this confession. It was said that an Indian passport with an Iranian visa was recovered from Jadhav. Since when did spies begin travelling on valid travel documents such as passports and visas?
Everybody is aware that Pakistani politicians like to atone for their sins by getting their hands dirty with the blood of innocent Indian citizens. Here you should carefully consider the timing of Jadhav’s death sentence. Elections to Pakistan’s national assembly are just one year away and Nawaz Sharif wants to retain power to keep his misdeeds away from the public eye. His tenure as Prime Minister has been infamous. He has failed to act on his electoral promises and his loved ones have been named in the Panama papers. If this wasn’t enough, the surgical strike by India brought him even more criticism.
Pakistan’s new army commander Qamar Javed Bajwa has no option but to go with Sharif. A few weeks before he took over, the Indian army conducted a surgical strike in Pakistani territory. He wants retribution for that. Not just this, every Pakistani general wants to avenge the humiliation that Pakistan faced in 1971 when 90,000 Pakistani soldiers led by General Niazi surrendered before the Indian army. That’s why Bajwa didn’t think twice before giving the go-ahead to Jadhav’s sentence, even when he knew Jadhav was innocent.
What will India’s next step be? I recollect an informal chat with a senior minister in the Modi government in August 2016 when he said that Pakistan doesn’t really know Narendra Modi. I don’t know what exactly he will do, but make no mistake, if they meddle too much with our borders, he will do something that will bring the Pakistanis back to their senses. Who knew that a few weeks later, our soldiers would cross the border and destroy the launch pads of terrorists who were flourishing with Pakistan’s support?
Clearly, Indian citizens are now hoping for Jadhav’s release. Can a strong nation like India allow Pakistani intelligence agencies to kidnap one of their citizens from Iran and hang him?
It is a test of India’s intent and resolve.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan