In an unprecedented move, the Pakistan armed forces on Tuesday released a videotape purportedly of alleged R&AW spy and former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav confessing to having funded Baloch insurgents. The six-minute tape led to Opposition calls for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to call off the peace process with India.
Indian intelligence officials, meanwhile, pointed to multiple errors in Jadhav’s testimony to assert that it may have been coerced. For example, Jadhav says he reported to a Joint Secretary in R&AW called Anil Kumar Gupta. There is, however, no one by that name at any senior rank in the agency or a position of Joint Secretary, R&AW.
Jadhav says that he was recruited by R&AW in 2013, but adds that he established “a base” in Iran’s Chabahar 10 years earlier, making clandestine journeys to Karachi and Balochistan.
Jadhav says he “served in the Indian Navy till around 2001 December” soon after the Parliament attack, after he allegedly began gathering domestic intelligence. Later, he claims to be a serving officer in the Navy, scheduled for retirement in 2022.
Through the video, during which there are several mid-sentence cuts suggesting that it was hurriedly spliced together, Jadhav refers to “criminal activity” and payments to Baloch insurgents. There are, however, no specific details.
Facts pieced together by The Indian Express show no evidence Jadhav worked for Indian intelligence services, but raises intriguing questions about how he ended up in Iran in the first place. In November 2003, Jadhav obtained a passport (E6934766) from Pune, identifying him by the pseudonym Hussein Mubarak Patel.
Born in 1968 (according to the passport), Jadhav joined the National Defence Academy in 1987, and was commissioned as a Naval engineer in 1990. According to colleagues, he rose to the rank of Commander after 14 years of service — one more than is the norm.
But within months of his passport being issued in Pune, Jadhav ended up in the Chabahar free trade zone, then a hub of Indian hopes to set up a transit route into Afghanistan and Iran. He told his family he was setting up a business to service trawlers and ferries operating out of the port, said friends.
To two friends in the Navy, who declined to identified, Jadhav gave varying accounts of why he had left the service. To one, he dropped broad hints of being involved in government-linked activity. “He never showed up at the usual reunion kind of things. He’d pretty much disappeared,” said one friend.
The address given to obtain his passport — the Martand Co-operative Housing Society in the Sai Vishwa area of Pune suburb Bavdhan — is incomplete. The records do not even state which apartment Jadhav may have occupied in the three-building complex.
Vijay Deshmukh, secretary of the building society, said records show no apartment was owned by anyone with the surnames Jadhav or Patel. None of the residents recognised Jadhav from a photogrtaph shown to them.
However, Deshmukh said, “In the past, the norms of registration of tenants with police were not as stringent as they are these days.”
Electronic tags on the Pune passport office’s computer system show an earlier passport was held by Husein Mubarak Patel but there were no details of the address this document was issued for since it was done before computerised records were introduced. “It’s a common method to pick up a fake identity. The fact that there is an earlier passport with valid visas makes getting new ones that much easier,” said a Delhi Police officer.
“But I can’t think why an intelligence officer should have gone through this subterfuge to obtain a pseudonymous passport. Let’s put it this way: there are systems in place to handle this kind of thing,” said a former RAW officer.
Little is known of Jadhav’s life in Iran — there are no records and his family has declined to publicly discuss details of his business or life. Government sources say he owned a small cargo-shipping business and dealt in scrap metal. The embassy in Tehran also had no contact with him, said sources.
“There’s a lot of people-trafficking through Chabahar with traffickers routing migrants from India and Pakistan seeking to go west,” said an Indian businessman based there.
Like many border zones, Chabahar is also a listening post for intelligence services, including R&AW, where information is sold on everything from shipping and construction activity to trafficking.
In 2014, Jadhav obtained the passport he was eventually arrested with in Pakistan, L9630722, issued in Thane. This time, he identified himself as a resident of the Jasdanwala Complex on the old Mumbai-Pune road cutting through Navi Mumbai. The flat, municipal records show, was owned by his mother Avanti Jadhav.
This time, he made no effort to conceal his identity. “He came just once every few years but would talk to everyone,” said a salesman at a bike shop on the ground floor. To one resident, who asked about his excellent Marathi, he claimed to be a Muslim businessman born in Satara. Building society chairman, S Bhoir, said Avanti Avanti Jadhav told him he “was a close family friend.”
Last November, Jadhav made his final visit to the building. “There was another man with him. They were talking about vacating the flat and selling it,” said a resident. In the video, Jadhav says he was arrested on March 3.
Intelligence officials said New Delhi was working with Iran to establish if Jadhav may have been lured into Pakistan, or kidnapped. “The fact that he was caught with a passport is a giveaway. We might not be the world’s greatest spies, but we are not idiots either,” said one of them.