The provisional measures announced by the International Court of Justice have been a source of much celebration in India, and much navel-gazing in Pakistan. Indians are delighted that the ICJ has asked Pakistan not to hang Kulbushan Jadhav until the case comes to a conclusion. Pakistanis are wondering why, after having suffered terrorism at the hands of an Indian spy, they must now also live with the indignity of the spy being protected by the international system.
The basic facts of the case and the politics around it remain unchanged. Pakistan will not hand over Mr Jadhav, and will be under severe pressure to bring the case to its logical conclusion: the execution of a man we believe is a spy.
India will not accept Jadhav is a spy, and will spare no effort to ensure that the conversation around Jadhav is, instead, about Pakistan’s international reputation. The final outcome of the case will likely not stray very far from the provisional measures. Actually, it will offer Pakistan a robust and unprecedented opportunity to make the case it has made gingerly and without much success thus far: that India actively promotes political violence in Pakistan, both as payback for Kashmir and Khalistan, and as a tactic to keep Pakistan employed in dealing with internal fissures.
Regardless of how well or poorly this goes for Pakistan, Jadhav is almost certainly never going to be a free man again. Neither is he likely to be offered a chance to meet representatives of the very government that Pakistan deems to have sent him over to spread violence and terror in the country. Consular access may be a human right, but it is a right that one forgoes when one enters the dark and murky world of espionage and black ops.
Could this all be a figment of Pakistani imaginations? Could Jadhav have been, as Indian government officials claim, a simple businessman? Anything is possible. But in India and in Pakistan, perceptions about the other country are deep-set and even flimsy evidence of wrong-doing is often enough to harden positions. In this cloud of confusion and doubt, strong leadership could have helped avoid all of this. India could have tried to manage the situation after Jadhav had been arrested last year, differently.
Instead, India went into offensive overdrive. It ramped up repression in Kashmir, and followed up with PM Modi’s August 15, 2016 speech – a broadside that was interpreted in Pakistan as an open declaration of hostility. That speech helped harden views here. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responded at the UN General Assembly last year, extolling the virtues of young militants like Burhan Wani. The Jadhav case is an instrument of hardened and hardening positions in the national security establishments of Pakistan and India. Winning a battle like the ICJ’s provisional measures is not new: India has won many international image battles in South Asia before.
Beating up Pakistan in the arena of global public opinion has not done much for India’s assertions about what it seeks from Pakistan. It has not mattered in changing the strategic calculus on this side of the Radcliffe line. It did not prevent the terrorist attack of 26/11. It did not prevent China’s blocking of punitive measures against Pakistan at the United Nations Security Council. Despite all this, India has kept it up, appointing hardliners like Ajit Doval in key government positions. Just like so many other instances, the Jadhav fiasco spinning out of the region and into The Hague will not stop Pakistan from doing what Pakistan will do.
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Pakistan will happily take another black eye to its image, but it cannot and will not start handing over people it believes are high- level spies involved in terror operations, to India. India’s desperation to find a way to get consular access and meet with Mr Jadhav is being seen here as proof of the high value of his role as an agent of India. Pakistanis will not apologise for denying him consular access, nor for his continued incarceration.
Those among us in South Asia, that have campaigned for better relations between the two countries have watched with both resignation and dread as the post Pathankot relationship has plunged from one low to another. India’s media and general public are not the primary, secondary or even tertiary concerns for Pakistan’s leaders – civilian or military. So the hyperventilating celebrations in India can continue. Like the music on the Titanic, that noise does not matter. Kulbushan Jadhav will never be free again, and likely never meet an Indian again. His fate was decided when he took up a job that was meant to hurt Pakistan. A few negative headlines will not change this fundamental reality.
The enemies of peace in this region have won yet another victory – and those seeking better Pakistan-India relations have been left, once again, searching for answers and the next sliver of daylight. It may be a long wait.