Souring relations

It almost seems an eternity ago since Prime Minister Modi, fresh from his impressive triumph in the 2014 general elections, invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif along with other heads of state from the subcontinent to attend his swearing-in ceremony.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there have been some significant developments on the foreign policy front. In recent times, the projection of strength in the face of China's belligerence over the Dalai Lama's recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, improved bilateral ties with Bangladesh, Israel, United States, Southeast Asia, and even some of the major Gulf nations, are developments that New Delhi can count as positives. Pakistan, however, remains that intractable problem and the National Democratic Alliance government's policies in this regard have largely not worked. It almost seems an eternity ago since Prime Minister Modi, fresh from his impressive triumph in the 2014 general elections, invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif along with other heads of state from the subcontinent to attend his swearing-in ceremony. In December 2015, Modi seemingly took bilateral relations with the hostile neighbour to another level, when he made that unscheduled stop at Lahore—the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in more than a decade. With the promise of these events and the significant political capital at Modi's disposal, there was hope in some quarters that India would enter a period of relative calm in its relations with Pakistan. Those moments seem like a long time ago, and in the interim, things have taken a turn for the worse. Most recently, the Pakistan army's Inter-Services Public Relations (IPSR) announced on Monday that Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer who they claim, is an agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (India's primary foreign intelligence agency), was awarded a death sentence by a Pakistani military court martial. New Delhi's response to the announcement was clear. In a demarche issued to Pakistan's envoy to India, Abdul Basit, New Delhi said the charges against Jadhav "are farcical in the absence of any credible evidence" and despite repeatedly seeking consular access to him, "as provided for by international law", Islamabad failed to fulfil their wishes. Finally, New Delhi said that if Pakistan went ahead and executed the sentence, it would constitute "premeditated murder". As per the IPSR bulletin, Jadhav was charged with "involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan".

More specifically, they claim he had apparently confessed that "he was tasked by RAW to plan, coordinate, and organise espionage/sabotage activities aiming to destabilise and wage war against Pakistan by impeding the Law Enforcement Agencies for restoring peace in Balochistan and Karachi". It is hard to take these claims at face value, considering how confessions are usually beaten out of those detained by the military, especially in a case of such apparent significance. In fact, senior Pakistani officials had themselves recently raised doubts about the veracity of the charges against Jadhav. Just last December, Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz had said that his government could not finalise the dossier on Jadhav because of "inadequate evidence". In a bid to undo the potential damage to their case against Jadhav, the Pakistan Foreign Office stepped in and offered another spin to Aziz's comments. In the following month, Pakistan submitted a dossier to the United Nations about the case and Jadhav's alleged involvement in subversive activities on Pakistani soil. Pakistan had even tried to raise this matter with Tehran during Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's visit to Pakistan in March 2016. The local media claimed that the then Pakistan Army Chief had raised this issue during a meeting with Rouhani. Tehran, however, roundly dismissed the press reports as "undignified rumours" and a "product of thinking which does not like a further expansion of ties". Going one step further, Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost, roundly rejected Pakistan's charge that Jadhav was a spy, saying that the claims were "one hundred per cent false". New Delhi has consistently maintained that Jadhav was kidnapped last year from Iran while on business and "his subsequent presence in Pakistan had never been explained credibly". It is also imperative to note that the strategy of trying Jadhav in a military court as opposed to a civilian court was clearly an attempt to deny him any consular access. Under Article 36 of the Vienna Protocol on Consular Relations, 1963, the consular of any country "shall have the right to visit a national of the[ir] sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation". Both India and Pakistan are signatories to this international agreement. Those in the know also believe that Pakistan's civilian administration was not even informed of Jadhav's trial and that the decision to sentence him came soon after reports that a former Pakistan ISI officer went missing from the Indo-Nepal border. Reports indicate that the Pakistani spy is suspected to be a central figure in operating a terror network in states along the Indo-Nepal border. Nonetheless, the military court's decision to sentence Jadhav to death and make a big show of it is an attempt to provoke India. Analysts believe that there is a larger game at play here. Countries usually deal with spies under the same cover of secrecy that they operate in and the decision to issue a press release on the military court's verdict is aimed at sending a message to New Delhi.

Some experts contend that this is in response to India's recent actions that have angered a belligerent China, Pakistan's biggest ally. Those taking this position point to the allegations made against Jadhav that he was involved in subversive activities in Balochistan, which falls under the $54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The volatile situation in Balochistan has come to hurt both China and Pakistan in recent times, and the Pakistani military has taken it upon itself to provide security. In its press release, the ISPR claims that they had nabbed Jadhav through a "Counter Intelligence Operation from Mashkel, Balochistan." It also plays into Islamabad's narrative that India has been undertaking terrorist operations to destabilise Balochistan. Relations with both China and Pakistan have deteriorated in the recent past. Beijing's desire to undermine India's security and strategic interests on multilateral forums at every possible turn and New Delhi's subsequent response in playing the 'Tibet card' has soured relations. Since the Uri terror attack in 2016, followed by the much-publicised cross-border raid to dismantle terror installations across the Line of Control, Indo-Pak relations have also remained rather tense. At this juncture, it is hard to tell what is happening in the Jadhav case definitively. What is evident, however, is that little or no due process was followed in Jadhav's trial and unlike Islamabad, New Delhi has remained consistent in its assertions that he was, kidnapped, and taken to Pakistan. Also, Islamabad must also contend with the reality of what it would mean for Pakistani spies caught in India if they went ahead and executed Jadhav. Does Pakistan want to go down that path?
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