Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer sentenced to death by a military court in Pakistan on Sunday, approached the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) several times between 2010 and 2012 offering his services as a freelance intelligence operative, three highly placed officers who served in the organisation at the time have told The Indian Express. However, the officers said, the offers were rejected by R&AW, which saw Jadhav as too much of a risk. Governments in three countries, India, Iran and Pakistan, have conducted investigations, but not disclosed their findings, while the Jadhav family has refused multiple requests for interviews.
Jadhav made his first pitch to work for R&AW, sources at the meeting in New Delhi said, in the summer of 2010. He offered the use of his dhow, the Kaminda, to gather intelligence on Pakistan’s fledgling port project at Gwadar. The proposal, the sources said, received a polite but sceptical hearing by R&AW’s Pakistan Desk, which directly handles Pakistan-related operations, and a Joint Secretary familiar with covert operations. Both appraisers concluded R&AW had little interest in Jadhav’s intelligence-gathering proposals.
“I am not prepared to discuss the specifics of any intelligence-related conversations or contacts,” said Anand Arni, the long-serving head of R&AW’s Pakistan Desk, who retired in 2012. “I will only repeat what I said on Monday which is that Jadhav was not an asset of the agency. You are free to believe or disbelieve me.”
From accounts offered by the intelligence officers — one still serving, and two retired — the story began in December 2001, when Jadhav had just retired.
The son of a retired police officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Sudhir Jadhav, with an uncle involved in the private security business, Jadhav, at the end of 14 years service as an engineer in the Navy, at the rank of Commander, decided to set up a business in Iran’s Chabahar free trade zone.
Though Chabahar had been touted as a economic boom-town, where India hoped to have significant economic equities, the reality proved different: United States economic sanctions led New Delhi to back away from promised investments; road and rail lines linking the port to Afghanistan and Central Asia were never built.
Jadhav, who had sunk his life’s savings into the Kaminda, struggled to make ends meet, stumping up only meagre business ferrying scrap metal and fertilisers.
Jadhav conducted his business in Iran using an illegally obtained Indian passport, E6934766, identifying him by the pseudonym Hussein Mubarak Patel. The passport, whose existence was first revealed by The Indian Express, gave an incomplete address. Later, in 2014, Jadhav obtained a second passport, this time giving the address of a flat in Thane owned by his mother, Avanti Jadhav. Local residents, however, knew him by his pseudonym, Husein Patel.
“He was in fairly tight financial circumstances when he contacted R&AW through common contacts in the Navy around 2010”, an officer then serving on the organisation’s Pakistan desk recalls.
Following this early contact, R&AW sources said, Jadhav made further attempts to establish a formal relationship with Indian intelligence in 2013, but again without success.
In a videotape released by Pakistan’s military last year, Jadhav says he was recruited by R&AW in 2013, 10 years after setting up his base in Chabahar. However, there is no officer, past or present, bearing the name he cites as his handler — Joint Secretary Anil Kumar Gupta.
In the videotape, Jadhav also claims he had contact with National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval, who served as Director of the Intelligence Bureau in 2004-2005, before taking up his current assignment in 2014. There is no evidence, though of such contact, and intelligence insiders said it was profoundly unlikely an intelligence service’s asset would be granted an audience with the NSA.