New Delhi: Pakistan has often accused India of fomenting instability and even terrorism in the restive province of Balochistan, with frequent claims of Indian currency, weapons and ‘agents’ being spotted in the region. Therefore, when the Baloch home minister announced on Thursday that an Indian navy officer had been caught near the Chaman border with Iran, the report was noted, but not taken seriously.
This morning, after Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhury summoned the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad Gautam Bambawale to issue a démarche to convey its “protest and deep concern” at what it termed as the “illegal entry into Pakistan by a RAW officer”, the situation took a more serious turn.
Chaudhary alleged that the “RAW officer” was involved in “subversive activities in Balochistan and Karachi”.
RAW, for ‘Research & Analysis Wing’, is India’s external intelligence agency.
In a rather unusual response, India not only acknowledged that the arrested man was an Indian national, but also that he is a former military officer. However, the ministry of external affairs spokesperson denied allegations that he was a spy for the Indian external intelligence agency. “The said individual has no link with government since his premature retirement from Indian Navy. We have sought consular access to him,” said MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup. He added that India has “no interest in interfering in [the] internal matters of any country and firmly believes that a stable and peaceful Pakistan is in the interest of all in the region”.
Though more details are likely to emerge in the days ahead, this is what The Wire has gathered so far from the Pakistani media reports and Indian officials.
What Pakistan says and doesn’t say
1. The former Indian navy man was arrested from the Chaman border near Afghanistan, though some media reports claim he entered Pakistan from Iran. If indeed he entered from Iran, that would place him in southern end of Balochistan near the Makran coast, rather than up north near Quetta and Chaman. Why would he enter from end and travel through an insurgency-wracked province to reach Chaman when it would be more easily accessible from Kandahar in Afghanistan?
2. Pakistani media reports say the man’s name is ‘Kulbhushan Jadhav’, ‘Kulbhushan Yadav’ or ‘Kul Bhushan Yadav’. This is the photograph of Jadhav that Dunya TV has issued:
3. Pakistan’s Dunya TV also carried images of what it claimed was a passport the arrested man was carrying – passport number L9630722 – issued in May 2014 to a Thane, Maharashtra resident by the name of Hussein Mubarak Patel.
4. Dunya TV also released an image of what it said was the man’s Iranian visa. Though the image is not very clear, it is actually a residence permit valid till June this year for stay in “CFZ”, the initials for the Chabahar Free Trade Zone. Resident permits in Iran are normally issued by the police. The Pakistani TV channel has not said where Hussein Mubarak Patel’s Iranian visa was issued. The permit was issued on 17/4/94 according to the Iranian calendar, i.e. July 7, 2015, for entry from Bazargan, a town in the west of the country.
5. Dunya TV also claimed that the man was formerly with naval intelligence and joined RAW in 2013.
6. The Pakistani army has also seized on the arrest to repeat its allegation that India is fomenting trouble in Balochistan. Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Aamer Riaz was quoted in Dawn as saying “the RAW agent had contact with separatist elements in Balochistan and was involved in a number of terrorist and subversive activities in the province.”
“Our enemies do not want development and prosperity in Balochistan,” said Lt Gen, Aamer Riaz. He further said that the people of the country need to understand the dangers faced by Pakistan. “The geographical and ideological borders of Pakistan are being threatened,” added Riaz.
7. Based presumably on official briefings, the Pakistani media says Yadav/Patel has confessed to being in contact with a Balochi separatist named Haji Baloch. Interestingly, Dunya TV’s report hints at a possible Indian link with the May 2015 massacre of 45 Ismailis aboard a bus in Karachi by the Jundullah terrorist group but stops short of making a direct accusation:
“Baloch was consolidating Daesh network in Sindh’s Karachi. He said that culprits behind Safoora carnage were in contact with Baloch as well. Earlier in 2015, at least 45 people were killed as armed men opened fire at a bus in Karachi’s Safoora Goth.
“Indian intelligence operative further revealed that terrorists present in Karachi were used for sectarian violence. Numerous meetings have been called so far with sole agenda of spreading unrest in Sindh especially Karachi, he added.”
8. When Jadhav/Patel was actually arrested is not known but assuming the information being provided to the Pakistani media by the authorities there is the product of interrogation, chances are that he has been in custody for longer than a day.
What the Indian side is saying and not saying
1. The Indian government’s decision to acknowledge the fact that a citizen arrested in Pakistan has a military past is a novelty, as denial is often the default response in such cases. Former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan G Parthasarathy told The Wire, “It would be surprising if RAW has sent a former naval personnel to Balochistan”. However, he felt that India did the right thing in admitting that he was a former naval man “as anyway Pakistan will be raising this at different foras”. The Indian government has, of course, denied it has any interest in destabilising Pakistan.
2. The Indian side has yet to release the name of the “said individual [who] has no link with government since his premature retirement from [the] Indian Navy” – for example, whether he is called Kulbhushan Jadhav, Hussein Mubarak Patel or some other name. His date of retirement from the navy has also not been made public.
3.The arrested man’s family, however, confirmed to the Indian Express on Saturday that his name is Kulbhushan Yadav, that he had taken premature retirement from the Indian navy and was now working as a businessman.
4. India has been executing a port project in Chabahar, Iran and it would not be surprising for Indians to live and work there, including former navy employees.
5. In terms of realpolitik, it would be surprising if Indian intelligence did not use Afghanistan and Iran as a base to monitor developments in Balochistan and liaise with separatist elements. A crossing of the border may occasionally happen but would be unusual. It is also possible that the arrested man may have been lured into Pakistan on false pretences or even seized and brought across.
6. Spying and gathering information is something all states do; rival states frequently encourage separatist forces on the other side too. However, instigating acts of terrorism (even if couched as ‘retaliatory’ acts of terror) is a different game altogether and one the Indian side says it simply does not play.
7.Standard tradecraft in a situation where one country wants to send an agent into another is to send the person on a third country passport. Assuming Yadav/Patel is a RAW agent, intelligence sources say it would be highly irregular for him to enter Pakistan illegally carrying an Indian passport, even if in an assumed name. A national passport with a fake name is normally used when a country sends an agent into another under some other cover.
What happens next
1. Sartaj Aziz, the foreign policy advisor of the Pakistani prime minister, had last year submitted three dossiers to the United Nations Secretary General in New York which he claimed listed the Indian role in creating trouble on Pakistani territory. The fact that those dossiers did not exactly set the East River on fire, however, suggested their contents were not very substantial. The arrest of a former Indian naval man comes, therefore, as a shot in the arm for the revival of those Pakistani allegations.
2. The MEA’s prompt acknowledgement of the citizenship and antecedents of the arrested man may have been prompted by a desire to not give the Pakistani side an excuse to escalate its rhetoric or postpone the visit of its Joint Investigation Team into the Pathankot terrorist attack of January 2, 2016. With the five-member JIT set to arrive by Sunday night, this may have been an important consideration.
3. Commentators in the Pakistani media have long believed that India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, is a proponent of counter-terrorism operations. While the latest arrest will provide grist to that mill, it is not clear how far Pakistan will take matters. In the past, Pakistani officials have hinted at an Indian hand in not just the Balochi separatist movement – which is directed at the Pakistani military – but also in major terrorist attacks against civilians. If the arrest of Yadav/Patel is used to argue Indian involvement in atrocities like the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar or even the Safoora massacre, bilateral relations are likely to take a hit.
4. To the extent to which the Pakistani military establishment and the civilian government have different views on the utility of dialogue with India, it is possible that the arrest could be used to draw red lines which the army does not want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cross.
5. India has asked for consular access to the arrested man, which Pakistan is likely to deny since states seldom allow such visits in a case where they claim the foreign national detained is involved in espionage.
6. As of now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif are likely to meet on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington next week. There is no reason to assume the arrest will derail that meeting, though it may affect the outcome.
Note: The article has been edited on March 26 to add the information about Jadhav that his family provided to the Indian Express.