INDIA HAS slowed down efforts to secure consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is being held in Pakistan on charges of being a spy, with Iran bringing the former Naval officer’s business operations in Chabahar port under the scanner, according to highly placed sources.
Iranian investigators are probing whether Jadhav’s mechanised dhow Kaminda may have been used — with or without his knowledge — to run trafficking operations, involving oil, guns, drugs and people, across the Indian Ocean rim, said sources.
Government officials based in Tehran told The Indian Express that the information has been shared informally with New Delhi.
A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson told The Indian Express that India had not yet received any communication from Pakistan on its request for consular access to Jadhav, made immediately after an edited video of his statement to local investigators was released on March 29. Jadhav had purportedly admitted to being engaged in arming and financing Baloch insurgents, operating from his base in Chabahar Free Trade Zone.
However, sources confirmed that in a break from normal practice, India has not sent a note verbale reiterating its demand — a third-person, unsigned diplomatic instrument intended to exert pressure. The External Affairs Ministry declined to comment on if, or when, one would be sent.
“The passport Jadhav holds gives him the right to protection from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan. This is not a negotiable issue, and India could react harshly, by treating Pakistani nationals arrested here in a similar manner. It is choosing not to do so,” said a government official.
Held on charges of working for the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), Jadhav has been imprisoned since March 3, without access to legal representation. On Tuesday, Pakistani media reported that he has been charged with terrorism and sabotage in an FIR filed by officials in Balochistan from where he was allegedly arrested last month.
India and Pakistan are both signatories to Article 36 of the Vienna Protocol on Consular Relations, 1963, which mandates that consular of any country “shall have the right to visit a national of the[ir] sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation”.
Few details have emerged on the circumstances in which Jadhav left the Navy in 2002, but government sources said he was asked to put in his papers ? a measure normally taken only in cases involving misconduct, though of a kind stopping short of the criminal. Naval Headquarters in New Delhi declined to comment.
Records seen by The Indian Express show that Jadhav’s company regularly invited contracts for the supply of gypsum — which India imports for the manufacture of cement. In March, 2015, for example, Jadhav searched for partners to enter into an annual contract for gypsum running to March 2016.
Local shipping operators confirmed that ‘Husein’ – the name that Jadhav allegedly used — operated a mid-sized dhow, which travelled to Indian Ocean ports like Kandla and Porbandar.
Large quantities of narcotics are known to be shipped through south from Afghanistan through the region to southern ports. In one report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organised Crime reported that drug traffickers “have become increasingly reliant on maritime transportation to smuggle opiates from Iranian and Pakistani seaports to the global market”.
In particular, it named “Iranian seaports at Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, as well as to the Pakistani seaports at Gwadar, Karachi and Port Qasim”.
Iranian officials told The Indian Express that few background checks are made on Indians seeking to open businesses in the Chabahar zone. “We see it as an Indian economic enclave of sorts. There are people there involved in all sorts of economic activity, and we’d like to see many more,” said an official.
One Indian sailor operating to Chabahar told The Indian Express that Jadhav was also known to have a family there, but this claim could not be corroborated. Jadhav’s family in Mumbai declined to be interviewed for this article.
Tehran’s ambassador to Islamabad, Mehdi Honardoost, had earlier dismissed Pakistan’s charge that Jadhav was a spy, saying that the claims were “one hundred percent false”. Had Pakistan believed RAW was operating a station out of Chabahar, it ought have shared information with Tehran to enable it to shut down the operation, he said.
Earlier this month, Gunter Mulack, Germany’s former ambassador to Islamabad, said he had information that Jadhav had been kidnapped by the Taliban near Chaman, and sold to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
“This theory explains why he’d have been carrying his passport. There are a lot of border checks there. When he began to be interrogated, he may have disclosed his past as a Naval officer to avoid harsh treatment,” said an Indian intelligence official.