New Delhi: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday accused Pakistan of misusing the ’emotional moment’ of the meeting between former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav and his family for ‘propaganda’, even as she dismissed Pakistan’s claims of security breach through the wife’s shoe as “absurdity beyond measure”.
India had already denounced Pakistan for violating the “letter and spirit” of the understanding a day after the 40-minute meeting between Jadhav and his wife Chetna and mother Avanti took place in Islamabad. Pakistan had dismissed the Indian claims as “baseless”.
“While the meeting could have been a step forward, it is a matter of great concern that there was departure from the agreed understandings between the two countries in the conduct of this meeting,” said Swaraj in identical statements to both the houses of parliament.
A note verbale was issued to Pakistan on Wednesday with a list of India’s objections.
Swaraj claimed that the “emotional moment between a mother and her son, and a wife and her husband after a period of 22 months, was misused by Pakistan as an instrument to further its propaganda”.
Jadhav has been in Pakistan since March 2016, when his capture was announced by the Pakistani army. He was sentenced to death in April this year, but the judgment was stayed after India took Pakistan to the International Court of Justice for violating international law by not granting consular access.
Swaraj noted that the meeting with Jadhav was “portrayed by Pakistan as a humanitarian gesture”. “However, the truth is that both humanity and compassion were missing during the meeting that was arranged on humanitarian and compassionate grounds,” she said.
Terming it as a “serious and gross” violation of human rights of Jadhav’s family members, she added, “there are not enough words to condemn the same”.
Explaining the rationale for India acquiescing to the meeting, Swaraj said that the government “took up the cause of who sought access to Shri Jadhav with a view to ascertaining his well-being for themselves.”
She claimed that it was due to India’s persistent efforts that “Pakistan authorities consented to a meeting between Shri Jadhav and his mother and wife”.
Swaraj said that religious signs of married life like bindi, bangles and mangalsutra were forcibly taken from Jadhav’s wife and mother. “Under the pretext of security precautions, even the attire of the family members was changed. Mr Jadhav’s mother, who wears a sari only, was instead given salwar and kurta to wear,” she said amidst shouts of ‘shame’ from members of the parliament.
Swaraj narrated that Jadhav’s mother told her that seeing her without any mangalsutra or bindi, the first question that Jadhav asked her was about his father – “how is baba?”.
“Since his wife was also not wearing those signs, he probably understood that these things had been removed as part of security check-up,” Swaraj stated.
She also dwelled on the confiscation of Jadhav’s wife’s shoes before the meeting, which were not returned after. “The Pakistan authorities have been cautioned against any mischievous intent in this regard through a note verbale yesterday”.
India’s apprehension that the shoes will be used by Pakistan has come true, she added. “We are hearing that there was a camera, or a recorder or a chip… It is an absurdity beyond measure. She wore those same shoes while travelling through international airport, first on Air India to Dubai and then from Dubai on Emirates to Islamabad. Even if we accept that she was facilitated through Air India, do they think that in Dubai, with an airline like Emirates, there would not be adequate screening”.
Swaraj said that during the meeting, the mother wanted to speak to Jadhav in Marathi as “this is clearly the natural medium of communication between mother and son”.
“While doing so, she was repeatedly interrupted by the two Pakistani officials present in the meeting. When she persisted, the intercom was closed and she was prevented from proceeding further with the conversation in Marathi,” she added.
Swaraj highlighted the role of the Pakistani media who said that there had been a “clear agreement” that they would not get “close access” to the duo.
Not only weren’t they allowed to approach the family members closely, but they used “offensive language”. “The Pakistani media hurled false and motivated accusations about Shri Jadhav,” she stated.
Swaraj specifically pointed out that the car for the family of Jadhav and accompanying diplomat “was delayed after the meeting so as to give another opportunity to the media to harass them”.
Pakistan had wanted the two men to address a press conference, but India had refused. The Pakistan foreign office held its own media briefing, where it released another video statement from Jadhav, as well as his health records.
Swaraj also repeated India’s allegation that the Indian representative at the meeting, deputy high commissioner J.P. Singh, was deliberately separated from the two women and that the meeting started without his presence.
“The family members were taken for the meeting through a separate door without informing the Deputy High Commissioner of India, who had accompanied the family members for this meeting. Consequently, he could not see that the family members were being taken for the meeting after changing their attire and removing their bindi, bangles and mangal sutra. Otherwise he would have objected then and there. The meeting was started without his presence and he could join only after pressing the matter with concerned officials,” she said.
After their return from Pakistan, Chetna and Avanti met with Swaraj and other senior external affairs ministry officials.
“The mother and the wife, after their return, conveyed to me that Shri Kulbhushan Jadhav appeared under considerable stress and was speaking in an atmosphere of coercion. As the meeting evolved, it was clear to them that his remarks were tutored by his captors and designed to perpetuate the false narrative of his alleged activities,” she said.
Speaking in English, Jadhav had repeatedly stated during the meeting – which was recorded – that he was guilty of all the charges slapped against him.
Jadhav’s mother reportedly asked him about a visible bruise, which he ignored.
Swaraj went on to ask the two houses to condemn “in one voice, the obnoxious behaviour of Pakistan and affirm their solidarity with the Jadhav family”.
After her statement in the Rajya Sabha, leaders from all parties, including the opposition, expressed support for the government’s statement.
In Pakistan, the Director General of Inter Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor, claimed that the foreign office had informed India about the nature of the security check that the two women will have to undergo in advance. “In the context of the state of relations between the two countries and the sensitivity of this case, India was told about the type of security clearance,” he claimed.
Indian officials said that there had been no prior intimation that the women will have to change their attire.
The Pakistani army officer said that Pakistan had organised the meeting as a “responsible state”, which “India should have appreciated”. “India will never do it, but you must have seen that others, especially western countries have appreciated it,” he said.
Later in the evening, Pakistan’s foreign minister Khawaja M. Asif gave a direct response to his Indian counterpart, claiming that both the countries had agreed in advance through diplomatic channels on the need for a comprehensive security check.
“The visitors were treated with respect and dignity. The change of clothes and removal of jewelry/ornaments etc. was purely for security reasons. The visitors changed into their own clothes after the meeting. All their belongings were returned to them before they left,” Asif said.
Regarding the shoes, he said they were retained as they did not clear the security check. “A metal chip has been found in one of the shoes, which is being analysed,” he added.
The Pakistani minister claimed that routine airport checks entail removal of crosses and veils. “Trying to distort an agreed security check and attempting to portray it as a deliberate religious/cultural disrespect denotes bad faith and is regrettable.”
Rejecting all allegations, he asserted that Pakistan’s “humanitarian gestures did not obviate the fact that this was not an ordinary meeting between a mother and wife with their son and husband”
“The reality remains that Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav is a serving Indian naval officer and a convicted Indian terrorist and spy responsible for multiple deaths and destruction in Pakistan,” he added.
Taking a dig at the Indian media, Asif said that it was “unfortunate that the frenzied Indian media is driving Indian politics”.
On the mother not being allowed to speak in their native language, the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said, “The meeting was not allowed to be conducted in Marathi due to security reasons. There is nothing sinister in that.”
He claimed that they spoke “comfortably” in English for about 40 minutes. “The mother was allowed to say a short prayer in Hindi/Marathi”.
India had been informed in advance about the plan to record the meeting. There is apprehension in India that Pakistan would release the video of the meeting as yet another point-scoring tool.
Responding to Indian complaints about the visit being turned into a media circus, he claimed that Pakistan had accepted India’s request to not have a media conference for the visitors. However, he argued that the media had “every right to ask questions from a safe distance”.
Faisal admitted that no specific distance had been agreed by the two countries, but officials of the Indian high commission had been shown the “situation on the ground” a day before the visit. He claimed that the Indian high commission “consented to it”.
“Unlike India, media in Pakistan is not under any restrictions or gag orders,” he said.