Kulbhushan Jadhav, a file photograph. Photo:PTI
The implications of the questions raised by the Kulbhushan Jadhav case go far beyond Jadhav’s fate. It is time India reflects seriously on its expanding programme of covert action and its long-term consequences.
By PRAVEEN SWAMI
FOR six hours, the hired car had driven through a forest of shadows, cast by the mountains of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province—for generations, a refuge for smugglers, insurgents and spies. Heading towards Saravan, a town of 50,000 some 20 kilometres from the border with Pakistan, the car was carrying a businessman from Mumbai to a meeting. The men he wanted to meet were waiting, but there were others, too: like every spy story, this one ended in betrayal.
India knows something of what happened next: Kulbhushan Jadhav is now on death row, awaiting execution, after a hurried trial by a military court in Pakistan which found him guilty of espionage.
Early in January, Jadhav appeared on Pakistani television, insisting he was still “a commissioned officer of the Indian Navy”—a statement that contradicts the government of India’s statements and directly implicates it in his activities.
Precisely who Jadhav was and why he ended up where he did remain profoundly opaque. Basic questions remain unanswered; official documents are sealed. But interviews with over 10 diplomats and intelligence and naval officials from three countries make it clear that the governments of both India and Pakistan have been economical with the truth.
The implications of these questions go far beyond Jadhav’s fate, for behind the case lies a secret war that may claim hundreds, even thousands, of lives.
Ever since 2013, India has secretly built up a covert action programme against Pakistan, seeking to retaliate against jehadists and deter their sponsors in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and now by Research and Analysis Wing’s (RAW) Anil Dhasmana, the programme has registered unprecedented success, hitting hard against organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad. But the story of the man on death row illustrates that this secret war is not risk-free. Lapses in tradecraft and judgment, inevitable parts of any human enterprise, can inflict harm far greater than the good they seek to secure.