Twenty-two months after Kulbhushan Jadhav was kidnapped from Chabahar in Iran by the Taliban, sold to Pakistan’s ISI, was his family, comprising his mother and wife, permitted to meet him. Within this period, he was tortured to make statements claiming he was an Indian spy sent to operate in Baluchistan, tried by an army court, without legal advice and sentenced to death based on his forced confessions.
Majority of the over two hundred convictions by army courts in Pakistan are based on confessions, which indicates how easily they are forced from those suspected of being anti-national. Scores of appeals for consular access by India were rejected. A frustrated India, knocked on the doors of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has presently placed the death sentence on hold.
Last week, the meeting authorised by Pakistan to the mother and wife of Jadhav, instead of being a reunion and on humanitarian grounds, as claimed by them, turned out an insult to the family, Indian embassy staff accompanying them and the nation. They were forced to remove most of what they were wearing, denied permission to speak in their mother tongue and met a Jadhav, visibly aged, possibly drugged and carrying a collection of torture marks on his body.
The Indian counsel accompanying them was kept away and not permitted to even overhear the conversation, nor speak to Jadhav. Post the meeting, his wife’s footwear was not returned, and the family was heckled by members of the Pakistan press, as they were forced to await their vehicle, which was intentionally delayed. The Pak army, through their Public relations department even thanked the press for their insulting the family. For the family, what was supposed to be an emotional bonding turned out to be a torturous experience, which they would never desire to repeat. It was a nightmare, which would haunt them for years.
It is apparent that the meeting was scripted. Jadhav has been in the custody of the Pak army, not the state. It is possible that he is being regularly moved to ensure that there is no attempt to rescue him. Pak knows that its case is weak in the ICJ, as it has no proof of his involvement in subversive activities, less forced confessions, which have no legal standing.
Further, consular access is a right and should have been granted prior to the commencement of the trial, which has been refused to date. The reason for denying the consular access is fear of truth emerging. The difference between India and Pak is when India asks Pakistan to meet its citizens captured while committing terror acts, Pak refuses to even accept them as its citizens, while India seeks the consular access, which Pak denies.
Pak, in desperation to prove Jadhav’s medical and mental condition had hired the services of a Dubai hospital to medically assess him. It released the report on the day of the visit. While there were many flaws in the report and it appeared to be fake, torture marks were just not mentioned. Hiring a Dubai hospital showed Pak’s desperation, as it was hoping the world would accept this report. It was fearful that one of its local hospitals, if engaged, would be discredited.
By permitting the family to meet, it hoped to gain some sympathy from the ICJ. However, the insult to the family and the manner of its handling the meeting would be played out in the court, hence the benefit it hoped to gain from the ICJ would be lost.
The pressure on the Pak army to permit this meet would have been pushed by the government. Apart from seeking a softening in the ICJ, it would also have been aimed at projecting to India a stand down in its rigid stancewhich could be considered as a messagefor improving relations.
India waited and watched the unfolding of the choreographed meeting and would have no reason to even contemplate changing its approach. The Pak government may have had no choice, with the army making its position clear, despite a half-hearted statement by their army chief supporting government decision to improve relations with India. Another reason, which was evident by the production of a medical report and the meeting, was to project to the world that Jadhav is alive and maybe just so.
It was aware that for the mother and wife, the meeting would have been an emotional bonding and not an occasion to judge the mental and physical state of Jadhav. To prevent any accidental leakage of information, it denied any conversation in Marathi. The counsel accompanying the family, would have minutely observed Jadhav and judged his mental and physical status from a dispassionate angle. This could have become an embarrassment for Pak, hence it kept the counsel away.
While the attack on the Indian soldiers, including an officer took place before the meeting, India delayed its counter strike till the conclusion of the meeting seeking to avoid any impact on the family or the meeting. This was a mature action by India, which also maintained silence on its views until the family was back on Indian soil.
For Pakistan, conducting the meeting in the manner it did and in full public glare, including the humiliation of the family, was a grave error. It only enhanced the distance between the two nations, as India considers Jadhav innocent and desires him back, while the Pak military claims Jadhav is proof of Indian involvement in Baluchistan. If it wished to convey a change in approach, it failed.
Thus, this incident has added to tensions, rather than resolving it.If Pak had planned this visit as a gesture of goodwill, it has backfired. Within the Indian community it enhanced the bonding of the anti-Pak lobby. It also pushed on the backfoot any group seeking reconciliation and talks. Ultimately, what could have led to a thaw in relations, only hardened India’s stand.
(The author is a retired Major General of the Indian Army)