How will the Kulbhushan Jadhav case affect Pakistan’s relations with India?

Published: March 31, 2016
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Yadav is not the first RAW operative caught conspiring in Pakistan though he is potentially the most significant.

A video showing the confession of the detained Indian spy has gone viral on social media. It is not just a video featuring a confession. Recently, we had Mustafa Kamal expose the internal workings of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in his confession on the media which became a huge affair. This video outrivals the former big confession because it involves a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent directly.

Kulbhushan Jadhav, a serving Indian naval officer and a suspected RAW agent was arrested by security forces while he was trying to cross over in Pakistan at the border from Iran. His confession has revealed disturbing facts, confirming some longstanding fears. Despite concerns over authenticity of claims, the confession can have profound implications. The discovery could be yet another test for Pakistan-India relations. Assuming that he spoke the truth, let’s explore why his claims are significant and their potential repercussions.

In the video,  Jadhav exposed his country’s top intelligence agency’s role in destabilising Pakistan, particularly Balochistan through supporting its separatist insurgency. He revealed that they planned to target key ports in the region including Gwadar to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He explicitly revealed his intentions of creating instability in Pakistan.

Jadhav is not the first RAW operative caught conspiring in Pakistan though he is potentially the most significant. The most notable among dozens of Indian spies caught in Pakistan earlier was Ravindra Kaushik who had acquired proper cultural training before entering Pakistan. He had even married a local woman and kept on passing valuable information to RAW from 1979 to 1983.

Another famous RAW agent Sarabjit Singh was convicted of terrorism by the Pakistan Supreme Court for a series of bomb attacks that had killed people in Lahore and Faisalabad during 1990. He died in April 2013 following a fatal attack by fellow inmates in a prison.

Kashmir Singh is another prominent name who was released after spending 35 years in prison in Pakistan upon presidential pardon by General Pervez Musharraf. He later confessed that he was indeed an Indian spy.

And the list goes on.

But like stated earlier, the revelation of  Jadhav far outweighs the previous discoveries. So what makes him so big and consequential?

Timing is paramount. It comes when Pakistan is deeply embroiled in a desperate war against terrorism and militancy. It also coincides with the state’s controversial efforts of implementing a potentially transformational economic project; CPEC. The scourge of terrorism and religious extremism is perhaps the greatest challenge confronting Pakistan at present. Terrorism has both internal and external dimensions. The roots of home-grown extremism can be traced to Ziaul Haq’s regime which saw an explosive growth in madrassas that preached a deeply conservative version of Islam.

But why were those madrassas created in the first place?

Pressure from the West and funding from Saudi Arabia supported the process. Hence, the external factor was critical. Looking at the problem of extremism in the Arab world, there is no doubt that corrupt autocracies and criminal neglect of the youth in the region have unleashed an unprecedented wave of fundamentalists. But even here, despite a favourable internal climate, western foreign policy was instrumental.

While it is common to blame foreign elements for local problems in Pakistan, the external motives cannot be ruled out. Blaming India or America for anything that goes wrong in Pakistan is a fairly standard practice by default. But given the recent revelations, it is difficult to dismiss the Indian factor. The confession offers irrefutable evidence that India has been involved in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It has lent renewed credibility to previous claims by army officials in Pakistan over India’s alleged involvement in destabilising its neighbour.

Now the state must also take the Indian factor seriously, besides other factors such as madrassas in its fight against terrorism.

But what will it mean for Pakistan-India relations?

Pakistan and India have traditionally had a complex history. The relationship has been one of controversy, conspiracy and complexity. It has swung like a pendulum between animosity and goodwill, war and peace. A deep sense of mistrust has prevented any meaningful reconciliatory strategy. Years of progress can be thwarted with a single event. All it requires is one spy agent on either side of the border to undo months of trust-building efforts.

How influential  Jadhav’s confessions will be in driving the future direction of Pakistan-India relations will soon become clear. It will depend on how intelligently Pakistan plays the golden card.

The importance of friendly ties between India and Pakistan cannot be overemphasised. An amicable foreign policy can be transformational for both countries. At a recent conference titled Expanding Linkages in South Asia in Lahore, renowned regional specialists underscored the need for a closer alliance between India and Pakistan for the region’s development. India-Pakistan hostility is a major force stifling South Asia’s growth potential.

While India and China are celebrated as recent economic success stories, India’s reluctance to forge productive relations with its neighbours keeps it from realising its full potential. While enjoying growth rates comparable to rich countries, India is not prepared to play the role of a big economy. We have entered a very volatile period in global economic system. The global economic centre is gravitating increasingly towards Asia. In order to benefit from regional growth, stability in South Asia is paramount.

For that, India will have to move beyond supporting instability in its neighbour country. It should instead focus on the immense trade and tourism potential both countries can offer each other and the wider region. Pakistan, on the other hand, must also extend goodwill and sacrifice. It must use the confession card to turn the threat into an opportunity for the future. South Asia has extraordinary growth potential but for that one of the two nations would have to show magnanimity.

Hamza Siddiq

Hamza Siddiq

The author teaches global politics and international development for the University of London International Programme. He tweets as @hamzasiddiqkhan (twitter.com/hamzasiddiqkhan).

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