Pakistan’s Spy Games: Why Jadhav Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg
With India choosing to up the ante on Balochistan many innocent people in the region are going to be targeted in the near future accused of being Indian intelligence agents.
The portents of that are already evident in the last few days.
Estranged nations do play spy games. The Americans and the Soviets played some very interesting ones during the height of the Cold War, which became the themes of many a classic book or film. These games were more about information gain than about sabotage or subversion to create ferment in the civil populace. The Indian subcontinent too has had its share of such games, but looking at our regional scenario and viewing the environment, one comes across accusations, assertions and actions which defy rationale. Pakistan is the master of this and believes that anything to hurt India and Indian pride is good enough to score strategic and tactical advantage.
The weird case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former naval officer kidnapped allegedly from Chahbahar on 3 March 2016 did not arouse passions at the time of occurrence. This was primarily because the entire story looked half-baked and quite ridiculous. Now that the Pakistan Army has condemned him to death, and got that confirmed from its Chief, the issue is threatening to blow up into a full scale crisis. He was denied consular access despite repeated efforts by our diplomats (13 requests as per sources) and he was prosecuted as a serving enemy officer under Pakistan Military Law. Alleged spies are not court martialled or tried under military law but Pakistan has its own ways, a nation born to irrationality and living by it.
A few aspects need examination. First, whether the sentence will be actually carried out; second, if it is, then India’s likely response? Third is a deeper analogy to ascertain the real reasons for Jadhav's apprehension and subsequent ill treatment.
Many believe that this is all brinkmanship. The later part of this analysis does justice to the belief. Will the sentence be carried out or as some believe Jadhav has already been executed. It is learnt that some consular access is being granted to our High Commission officials which is the only way to prove that he is alive. Even with facilitation it is unlikely that there is going to be any reprieve. That will be possible only if the former Pakistan Army officer, allegedly working for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who disappeared from Lumbini in Nepal, is actually in Indian custody. The nation is hoping that this bit is true. If it is not, then the feasibility of Jadhav’s repatriation seems remote.
One has to remember that the image built around General Qamar Bajwa by many Indian analysts had placed him in the club of sensible soldiers, who did not work through ulterior agendas. Probably this branding, which was more wishful thinking than fact, has forced the Pakistan Army Chief to resurrect himself with a more vicious image to his perceived advantage. We can expect more irrational acts, especially because Pakistan currently believes military response from India is unlikely. We may just wonder who is responsible for projecting such an image to an adversary.
Between being doves and bemoaning the loss and dilution of military capability and repulsive jingoism of going to war at the drop of a hat, there is a dearth of intellectual application and production of analysed literature, which maturely shows where India’s red lines could lie, even if they are blurred. Such a projection has to bring to light just why Pakistan cannot get away with the thinking that 1.3 billion people and a 1.3 million army are incapable of securing their interests which could extend to the last edge of the conflict spectrum.
So what will be India's response in both scenarios, of Jadhav remaining in custody and the other of he being executed? Nations can be pushed around up to a limit. They have patience and can absorb a lot of nonsense thrown at them. They can even deflect criticism from internal quarters and public opinion, but it's never easy to be accurate about what actually constitutes crossing a nation’s red lines. India has kept its red lines largely blurred, and for good measure. Responses can never be typified either. It did not respond militarily to 26/11 but politically the peace process was stalled for long. In the instant case, politico-diplomatic measures are already underfoot with reduction in visas being approved for visits by Pakistani citizens.
This is only one element of the vast spectrum of potential response, the high end of which is military response. No one should expect the government to jump to the highest rung of escalation from the first moment. However, quite obviously, Pakistan’s action has been based on the assumption that India wishes no dialogue. Therefore, its action constituted no real risk in an already vitiated environment.
In the field of military response also professional counsel will advise looking at the low to high end of the spectrum. The public has to be educated about the fact that the highest end of the spectrum is not the first action unless absolutely mandatory and likely to fetch the desired objectives. Calibration is the method and this is usually done through a combination of different parts of the response spectrum, which combines the military with several other domains. This does not in any way mean that the extreme military option will not be part of a response strategy. It all depends on the larger picture and our capability to achieve our military and political objectives. It must be quite clear that no military is ever a hundred per cent prepared for war because optimisation is work in progress. The Indian military machine is similar to this and will respond with alacrity and professionalism quite expected of it.
Pakistan’s propensity to play the instigator once too often seems to flow from its strategic confidence, something which has seen a marked rise from earlier days when it was in the throes of an internal security paralysis. Notwithstanding the launch of Operation Raddul Fassad in the recent past, the Pakistan Army strongly believes that it has crossed the crest of internal turbulence. The triangular relationship – Pakistan-China-Russia, which is yet not near any fructification, has contributed its bit as Pakistan feels it has effectively excluded India and the US from stakes in Afghanistan. The operationalisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor also is giving ideas of an economic revival in the next few years. However, Pakistan does not take into consideration the terms and conditions of the Chinese investment and its long term implications.
When the Jadhav kidnapping occurred, it was made out to appear that he was operating as an Indian intelligence operative from inside Balochistan. It was also designed to send signals to Iran that India was indulging in dangerous activities with an ethnic segment that had sizeable presence in Iran too. It was just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran to sign the Chahbahar deal.
Notwithstanding the outcome of the current drama this is not the last irrational act that we have seen originating from Pakistan. With India choosing to up the ante on Balochistan many innocent people in the region are going to be targeted in the near future accused of being Indian intelligence agents. The portents of that are already evident in the last few days.
Lastly, Pakistan’s efforts to needle India in the diplomatic sphere are always designed to project to the world that despite India’s race towards becoming a middle power nothing has changed in the bilateral security equations. Much more of this awaits us as the world also moves through the uncertainty of a world order.
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