Once upon a time, not too long ago, espionage was a more civilised business than it is today. Spies were mostly thieves, after all. Soviet spooks smuggling rocket designs out of the US. CIA sleeper cells collecting nuclear research secrets from behind the Iron Curtain. Agencies slipping ex-commie Poles across the Berlin Wall to freedom, etc. It was, at the end of the day, a fancy form of thievery. And if there’s honour among thieves, why not among spies?
But now it’s a very different ballgame. Not only have entities like Al Qaeda and ISIS completely changed the rules of international warfare – complete with genocide, sex slavery, mass beheadings – extensive war and death has also altered the nature of the spy game. The Kulbhushan Jadhavs of today are not just merchants of sensitive information, but also mass death. They look up and nurture grievances, like secessionist movements or, preferably, more radical breakout outfits like TTP. Then they supply them with arms, bombs, ball-bearings and sit back as the terror, and death, spreads. They become suppliers and sponsors to forces tearing countries apart from within.
But no matter how good the James Bonds of a particular persuasion are, one or two will get caught in the net now and then. Standard practice is, of course, to deny it. Sure, there’s one of ours behind your lines. But, seriously, he went there completely on his own. Why would we send him there, really? They said this every time somebody caught a Mossad spy in the Arab world; they said this every time a Hamas agent was caught killing Jews; and they said this throughout the long post-war decades of the Cold War.
But, in the Jadhav matter at least, the Indians are getting caught in their own spin. First, when his confession came out, they weren’t too bothered. They denied the official connection, of course, and counted on the old ‘under duress’ clause to strip the confession of legal validity. Yet, one year down the road, with the judge and jury having pointed to the executioner, there is considerable angst in New Delhi.
For a while they tried another story. That Jadhav, still going solo, was actually running some small business out of Iran. And that’s where some TTP types pointed him out to Pakistani spies. But when that didn’t wash, they adopted a more formal posture. The Indian foreign minister has promised to provide Jadhav the finest legal representation; all the way to Pakistan. Yet this step – desperate as it seems – has also not been thought through. How could they possibly build their case? How would they look, really, selling his innocence when information provided by him, allegedly, has already led to the capture and shutdown of quite an extensive network? In first distancing themselves from the spy then scrambling for his cover, the Indians are only rubbishing their own formal positions continuously.
Delhi’s case is made only slightly worse because Indian security czars have trumpeted their ‘fourth generation warfare’ model up and down the country; enlightening parliamentarians in the House, students in colleges and eager anchors on talk shows about how they have infiltrated Pakistan to the core and turned its own system against it from the inside. When the chest thumping was followed by a successful operation in Pakistan, one that nabbed Jadhav and busted his network, India’s security establishment was left with a lot of egg on its face.
Going forward, India will realise that it will just not be possible to get Pakistan to halt the execution. Remember, in terms of the gravity of Jadhav’s crimes, for Pakistan he must first be treated as a murderer and then as a terrorist. One crime clearly takes precedence over the other. So the option of letting him go just does not exist. Of course, it’s not as if he’d have received an instant pardon from the president if his list of crimes did not included many, many killings.
But that Pakistan will just not back down from this means that by taking a stiff position – India is once again making a bad diplomatic investment. India’s posturing towards Pakistan, especially in the two-something years of the Modi administration, has been very clear. From ‘water and blood’ to that shameless show in Dhaka, where a sitting Indian prime minister admitted plotting in the ’71 war for the first time, Delhi has not even tried to hide its intention of isolating, even dismantling Pakistan.
Therefore, it’s not just the catch but also the timing. Obviously the finding, and the case, has put a spanner in the works of a policy in place for a long time. That, most likely, is what has India so rattled. Islamabad, on the other hand, has played its cards very wisely all this time. It did not give in to provocation after provocation – as is usually the case in Pak-India relations – but always bended more for peace and normalcy. Even when Nawaz went to Modi’s inauguration, he decided to forego the usual sit-down with Hurriyet, just to help turn the page.
And, regarding India’s efforts to isolate Pakistan, it just could not find any more willing partners than Bangladesh and Afghanistan. On the other hand the momentum of CPEC, not to mention the security cover of the emerging Russia-China-Pakistan alliance, has made Pakistan more central than ever to the region; especially since Iran is already looking to dump the deal with India and join the new bloc.
The best India can do about the Jadhav episode, really, is to let it blow away. There is no way it can deflect responsibility for the entire episode. The best it can do is to revise its position quite radically; to the benefit of both countries. So far Modi has all but bent over backwards personally to do some harm to Pakistan, and confronted failure after failure. If he is a smart politician, he will learn a lesson here. The Jadhav trial is deciding more than Jadhav’s case, it seems.
The writer is the Resident Editor, Daily Times Lahore, tweets @yourafiq and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org