When Pakistan’s intelligence services arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav, they thought they had found the smoking gun that would help them make the case against India for orchestrating terrorism, especially in insurgency-stricken Balochistan. So far, the only significant outcome of the sequence of events involving Jadhav is the worsening of India-Pakistan ties.
The international community, which has become accustomed to South Asian histrionics, does not seem too moved by the debate over whether Jadhav is a spy or not and whether India or Pakistan is right in this latest of their periodic spats.
Jadhav’s arrest was followed by a video-taped confession and an unannounced trial by a military court resulting in a death sentence. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has now stayed the execution while it hears India’s plea that Pakistan violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by denying Jadhav consular access, saying that India’s assertion is “plausible”.
The ICJ’s preliminary ruling is a snub to Pakistan, which is arguing that the ICJ lacks jurisdiction. Pakistan rests its case on Article (vi) of the May 21, 2008 Agreement on Consular Access between India and Pakistan, which states that “in case of arrest, detention or sentence made on political or security grounds, each side may examine the case on its merits.”
Precedent indicates that the ICJ does not interpret bilateral agreements in a manner that supercedes obligations of states under international treaties. The ICJ is likely to find Pakistan in violation of the Vienna Convention over denial of consular access even in its final verdict, even if it does not go further in its ruling.
Pakistan could ignore the ICJ’s injunction, as some hyper-nationalists are already suggesting, but doing so would come at a price in international goodwill. As it is, Pakistan’s standing in the comity of nations is not very high at the moment. Refusing to implement the decision of the international court on grounds of sovereignty might get applause at home, but will not improve Pakistan’s relations with a world already sceptical of Pakistan’s policies.
Notwithstanding the final outcome of the ICJ proceedings, it is unlikely that Pakistan’s real goal in the Jadhav matter will be achieved. That goal is to convince the world that India is as much to blame, if not more, for terrorism on Pakistani soil as Pakistan is for terrorism in India and beyond.
The military men who make such decisions in Pakistan are trained as soldiers, not lawyers or politicians. Their simple mind does not understand that international support for a nation depends on its political and economic clout, not its ability to produce uncorroborated confessional statements of spies or would-be terrorists.
Currently, India is the bigger trading partner of all major countries than Pakistan, many of whom also look at it as a destination or source of investment. Such interests act as a deterrent to most global actors supporting Pakistan’s claim of being pushed around by India with the help of “spies” or “terrorism enablers” that Pakistan arrests and sentences.
The rest of the world already knows that India and Pakistan spy on each other. It is not much of a secret, nor is the claim by both sides that the other supports insurgencies inside its territory, and hanging someone just to prove that point is rather unnecessary.
In any case, assuming Pakistan’s assertions on the Jadhav case are all correct, a single spy distributing money to would-be secessionists or insurrectionists is not the same as running training camps for jihadi groups for three decades.
Most of the countries Pakistan is hoping to convince of Indian perfidy have, over the years, documented Pakistan’s support for groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, recognised all over the world as terrorist groups. Pakistan does not help its case by allowing these groups to operate under new names after banning them. Nor is it helped by the public activities and media appearances of the leaders of such groups.
What, then, does Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex hope to achieve by prolonging the confrontation over one individual Indian, spy or not? It is probably meant to heighten the sentiment in Pakistan, carefully nurtured over the years by its establishment, that India remains Pakistan’s “eternal enemy”. It will likely also deter civilian leaders, mainly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, from any new initiative to mend fences with India.
Media frenzy about the arrest and sentencing of a spy will keep the pot of neighbourly enmity boiling, even if it is largely ignored outside South Asia. Pakistan’s hyper-nationalist narrative already positions the country as the target of a global conspiracy and portrays its nuclear-armed military and intelligence agency as the only bulwarks against annihilation.
Jadhav’s conviction for espionage helps the Pakistani establishment advance its case to Pakistanis of a besieged Pakistan that would be at India’s mercy were it not for the military and the ISI.
Already, social media — widely manipulated by the ISI’s ‘M’ (for media) Wing and extensive activism from retired military officers — is advancing conspiracy theories about civilian collusion with India. Sharif’s government is alleged to have compromised Pakistan’s “principled stance” on the Jadhav case by appearing before the ICJ instead of going ahead and carrying out Jadhav’s sentence.
If the objective of Pakistan’s establishment is to keep India-Pakistan hatred alive, the truth about who Kulbhushan Jadhav is and what he was doing when he was picked up is hardly relevant. The desire to internationalise the India-Pakistan conflict, however, seems hardly likely to be fulfilled any time soon.