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Monday, Aug 26, 2019

Kulbhushan Jadhav’s story amounts to a déjà vu of India-Pakistan diplomatic lows

The treatment of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s relatives would seem velvety compared to what the Rajesh Mittal family suffered.

analysis Updated: Dec 29, 2017 10:04 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Pakistani journalists watch a video message of imprisoned Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav during a press conference by foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Islamabad, December 25, 2017
Pakistani journalists watch a video message of imprisoned Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav during a press conference by foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal, Islamabad, December 25, 2017(AP)

The external affairs ministry’s institutional memory is replete with instances of ugly diplomatic face-offs with Pakistan. One case stands out for the nadir it touched. It involved a counsellor-level official in the Indian Mission, Rajesh Mittal. He was abducted and tortured in Islamabad in the summer of 1992.

Unlike Kulbhushan Jadhav, Mittal enjoyed diplomatic immunity. But Islamabad consigned the Vienna convention to the dustbin, what with its intelligence operatives subjecting Mittal to torture. After seven hours of captivity, the counsellor was “a living cabbage when we got him out,” according to a diplomat who handled the case.

I’ve a good memory of the Mittal saga, posted as I then was in Islamabad as HT’s resident representative. That wasn’t the age of real-time information platforms. Yet the incident made world headlines in the manner the Jadhav story has. It saw New Delhi calling off foreign secretary-level talks—that eventually took place in early 1994 without making any headway.

Sentenced to death this year by a military court, Jadhav is in captivity since March 2016. His trauma must have been much worse. In just a half day’s captivity, electrodes were used to brutalise Mittal.

Mittal was lucky; his freedom came early as his father and a domestic help were witness to his capture from outside his residence. The Indian Mission swung into action immediately.

The full story of Jadhav’s treatment by his captors will be known only when he returns home. That prospect has been set back by bilateral tensions concomitant to the Indian outrage over Pakistan’s handling of his meeting with his wife and mother.

It was a given that this meeting would be in a sanitised, highly regimented environ. The terrain would’ve been no different if New Delhi were to facilitate a family union with a person tried and convicted, rightly or wrongly, for terrorism.

Statecraft brooks no emotion. Still, it’s difficult not to react to the women being made to change clothes and take off their mangalsutras. Islamabad also played foul through a choreographed exposure of Jadhav’s relatives to media-persons outside its foreign office.

The scribes heckled and taunted the two women. “How’re you feeling on meeting your son who’s a murderer….Your husband played holi with the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistanis; what do you have to say about it?”

Pakistan failed abysmally if its intent was to come across as reasonable in the eyes of the international community and The Hague court hearing the Jadhav case. It was as much an opportunity lost to effect a thaw in the frosty Indo-Pak relations.

The casualty of it all is Jadhav. He may not be sent to the gallows. But an understanding on his fate is now unlikely till new regimes are in place after general elections on either side of the border. Pakistan goes to the polls next year, India in 2019.

The treatment meted out to Jadhav’s relatives in the Pakistan foreign office would seem velvety when compared with what the Mittal family suffered 25 years ago. The diplomat’s wife and father weren’t allowed to return with him in the BSF aircraft New Delhi sent to Rawalpindi’s Chaklala airbase for his evacuation.

There has been much consternation, and rightly so, over the delay in the arrival of a car to ferry back Jadhav’s visitors from the foreign ministry after the meeting. The affront was graver in Mittal’s case. The entrance to the airbase was locked when an embassy official reached there with his injured colleague.

Despite prior intimation, a security guard first wanted to know as to why they were there. He then tossed on the ground the identity card presented by the diplomat who had escorted Mittal.

The objective was to delay the flight. The purpose: deny Doordarshan the footage of the diplomat’s return for its prime time bulletin. Much in the manner in which Jadhav’s kin had to change clothes, remove footwear, Mittal was bundled on the plane in the shirt and trouser he was wearing. His belongings were carted home later by his wife and father.

What a déjà vu of diplomatic lows!

First Published: Dec 29, 2017 10:04 IST

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