Despite New Delhi’s efforts to save Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been awarded death sentence by Pakistani military court, it is highly unlikely that he will ever return to India, believes a defence expert.
Row over Jadhav’s death penalty “has become a game of political football in Pakistan. Political parties have started targeting the Pakistani government for being soft vis-à-vis India. Thus, there is no reason to hope that they will give Presidential pardon. We can only hope that they will commute his punishment to life sentence,” says defence expert Dr Ashok Behuria.
Dr Behuria, who sits on the panels of Track 2 diplomatic communications between India and Pakistan, says that only option for India is government to government approach. But in this case, it is not likely to help as “army is more powerful than the civilian government in Pakistan. The civilian government with whom we have bilateral relations will not be able to have that much of concession out of the army. They may honour the civilian agreements.”
Excerpts of exclusive interview with Dr Ashok K Behuria, Senior Fellow, South Asia division, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
Question: Pak High commissioner Abdul Basit says Jadhav was given fair trial, do you agree?
Answer: Not at all. It was shrouded in mystery, it was opaque. Indian high commission was not granted access to the accused. So the trial was anything but fair. One does not know anything, there was just one line in ISPR release that Jadhav provided legal assistance. We do not know what kind of assistance it was. There is a lot of secrecy surrounding this whole episode. How can you say that it was a fair trial?I saw that interview. He (Basit) was lying through his nose. As a diplomat, he wanted to evade the question.
Q: What are the options in front of India to save Jadhav right now?
A: We can only approach the government and hope to find a positive response. Because the way the whole thing has gone down, we do not what kind of facility we would have with the Pak army.
Because Army is more powerful than the civilian government over there. The whole matter is in army court. The civilian government with whom we have bilateral relations will not be able to have that much of concession out of the army. I do not know how much respect the army has for this civilian agreement in matters concerning consular access or matters concerning government to government relations. They may honour the civilian agreements.
Remember it is a field court trying the accused. They are treating Jadhav as serving naval officer.
Q: Why do you think India did not take a more proactive step to rescue or retrieve Jadhav from Pakistan in last one year?
A: Indian government made 13 requests for consular access, I don’t think we could have been more proactive then what we have already done? Pakistani government has not at all been forthcoming in their response.
Then there are reports on one of their guy being captured by Indian forces. There are speculations that an ISI agent (Pak Lt Colonel Muhammad Habib Zahir) has been captured by India. Perhaps Pakistani forces were trying to expedite the process of Jadhav’s prosecution to avoid embarrassment of Colonel’s arrest.
Q: Has this kind of situation risen before between the India and Pakistan, what happened then?
A: In the past, we have always used government to government method. Like in the case of Kashmiri Singh who was released after a presidential pardon by Musharraf. That is what we will do in this case also. There are other informal means one can adopt, but India may not have those leverages anymore because it has become a political football in Pakistan.
Political parties are targeting the Pakistani government for being soft vis-à-vis India. President Nawaz Sharif is being accused of being weak and unaggressive towards India. Thus, there is no reason to hope that they will give presidential pardon. We can only hope that they will commute his punishment to life sentence.
There are host of other factors, like we do not know what kind of leverage India has for a swap. Whether the arrested ISI officer had a lot of information to reveal, whether he had a lot of information to deliver, whether Pakistani army would like to have him back. All these thing remain in the realm of speculations.
There is the matter of new Army Chief. When General Bajwa came to power India expected military relations to improve, however, they have taken a downward turn. Any Pak army chief takes about 6 to 9 months to bounce and take proper charge and within four-five months of Bajwa’s taking over the military has gone outright and done something civilian government might not have approved off.
If Bajwa acted against the government or was the decision take in confidence of civilian government are all matters of speculations. But the next some days will definitely also highlight if the rift in Pakistan’s regime is not just between parties but also civil and military powers.