Humanitarian gesture or tactical move?

Updated - January 06, 2018 07:45 pm IST

Published - January 06, 2018 07:43 pm IST

Pakistan called it a humanitarian gesture when it allowed the wife and mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav to meet him in prison on December 25. India’s Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh was also present at the meeting. Some expected that the meeting would ease the tensions between the two sides over Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court over spying and terror charges. But in reality, the meeting turned out to be a point-scoring match for both sides.

India alleged that Jadhav’s wife and mother were mistreated by Pakistani authorities. His wife’s jewellery and shoes were taken off. The jewellery was returned but the shoes weren’t. Pakistan’s intelligence officials claimed they suspected that a chip was installed in the shoes for recording. The shoes were “fixed” at the Indian High Commission before the meeting, they said. Pakistani authorities made sure that the meeting got enough media publicity, which they hope they can use at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is hearing the case. In May last year, the ICJ stayed the execution of Jadhav, pending a final decision.

Baqir Sajjad, a diplomatic correspondent for Dawn , who was at the Foreign Office at the time of the meeting, said the initial statement by Pakistan that this would not be the last meeting between Jadhav and his family was overshadowed by allegations and counter-allegations. “I fear there will be no more meetings between Jadhav and his family,” he said.

The decision to grant access to Jadhav’s family was taken after much deliberation at the office of Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf in October when officials of the Foreign Office, the Law Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the military met. Following the ICJ stay, two proposals were discussed — one was to allow consular access for Jadhav and the other was to grant permission to his family to meet him. The first proposal was ruled out. Consular access will be the last option, said officials. “Pakistan can destroy the case at the ICJ by allowing consular access ahead of the judgment. India’s case is based on the premise that Pakistan is not granting consular access,” Tariq Mehmood, former Supreme Court Bar Association president had said.

But even Pakistan’s decision to allow Jadhav’s family to meet him has been questioned by some analysts. “Jadhav is not a diplomat, nor a person who arrived in the country on a visa. He is a terrorist. We were not under any compulsion to grant any sort of meeting,” said Maria Sultan, head of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute. Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani authorities in March 2016. In video footage released by Pakistan, he confessed to carrying out terrorist activities and espionage in the restive Balochistan Province and Karachi. India has dismissed all charges.

Zero-sum game

Despite Pakistan’s claims that Jadhav was tried in accordance with the law of the land, he is unlikely to be executed in the near future. “Currently, his appeal against death sentence is pending before the Army chief. Even if that is rejected, he can move the Supreme Court and also appeal to the President of Pakistan,” a lawyer associated with the case said.

As of now, Pakistan’s focus is on the case at the ICJ. It will face a setback if India manages to prove that Jadhav was a retired Navy official. But even if the ICJ rules in favour of India, Jadhav may not be freed immediately, say experts. “Jadhav will again be tried by Pakistan. For India, it’s is a zero-sum game, said Mr. Mehmood.

Mubashir Zaidi writes for The Hindu and is based in Karachi

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