External Affairs

India Raises Doubts Over Alleged Spy’s “Confession”

The foreign ministry continues to refer to Kulbushan Jadhav as a “former Indian Naval officer” and believes his ‘confession’ to being an Indian spy was coached.

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New Delhi: Alleging that he was coached to ‘confess’ to being an Indian spy in the video released by Pakistan, India has expressed concern about the well being of Kulbhushan Jadhav and has said that he could have been abducted from Iran.

The slickly-edited six-minute video was released at a joint press conference by Pakistan’s Information Minister Pervez Rashid and military spokesperson Asim Bajwa. Of course, most of the speaking was done by the latter.

In the statement issued a couple of hours after the press conference in Islamabad, the Ministry of External Affairs continues to refer to Jadhav as a “former Indian Naval officer”.

“We have seen a video released by Pakistani authorities of a former Indian Naval officer, doing business in Iran, who is in Pakistani custody under unexplained circumstances. The video has this individual making statements which have no basis in fact,” said the ministry.

Reports of Jadhav’s arrest first emerged on March 26. A day later, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhary summoned Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale to convey a démarche, alleging that Jadhav was a “RAW officer”

India has expressed apprehension of Jadhav being forced to make a dictated statement under pressure. “That the individual claims to make the statements of his own free will not only challenges credulity but clearly indicates tutoring,” the MEA said.

The Indian foreign office pointed out that despite requests, Indian diplomats had still not been given access to Jadhav “under detention in a foreign country, as is the accepted international practice”.

“We are naturally concerned about his well-being in these circumstances,” the MEA press noted.

Rejecting the allegations that he was a “RAW officer” involved in “subversive activities,” India claimed that Pakistan had lured the businessman to its border.

“Our enquiries reveal that he apparently was being harassed while operating a legitimate business from Iran. While we probe this aspect further, his presence now in Pakistan raises questions, including the possibility of his abduction from Iran. This would become clear only if we are given consular access to him and we urge the Government of Pakistan to respond immediately to our request,” the MEA statement said.

Derailing progress in Pathankot probe

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said Jadhav’s ‘confession’ could be discounted as it was made in custody and that the timing of the video release was aimed to “buttress Pakistan’s case of Indian interference in Balochistan”.

He added that it also “negated the progress in Pathankot”. The release of the video of the India ‘spy’ coincided with the wrapping up of the visit of Pakistan’s joint investigation team (JIT), which included an ISI official, to the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, which was attacked by six terrorists earlier this year.

“This (release) was perhaps a reflection of unhappiness in certain quarters of the establishment that Pakistan was forced to acknowledge that there was cross-border link in Pathankot for the first time,” Sibal told The Wire.

According to Sibal, another motive for the arrest and the public ‘confession’ could be to influence American opinion and smoothen the process of the sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan.

There seemed to be muted coverage about the visit of the Pakistan JIT to Pathankot on the websites of Pakistani media outlets, while Jadhav’s video ‘confession’ got top billing across all platforms.

The Indian opposition has been stringent in its criticism about the access given to the Pakistani team, even though the government had clarified that most parts of the base had been “visually barricaded”.

Outside the base, protesters from the Aam Aadmi Party carried black flags and shouted slogans against the JIT. The Congress said that the visit by JIT to the Pathankot base raised questions about “procedural propriety”.

Meanwhile, BJP President Amit Shah said the Pakistan JIT was only given limited access to the periphery.

“I agree that for the first time Pakistan has made serious efforts towards investigation. The results will be known after the investigation gets over,” Shah said during a media interaction in Kolkata.

The five-member Pakistan team will hold a second round of interaction with the National Investigation Agency on Wednesday, March 30, before they leave for home.

Earlier, Pakistan had sought to drag Iran into the quagmire. Bajwa had claimed that Pakistani army chief Raheel Sharif raised the matter of Indian spies using Iranian soil to conduct intelligence operations during his meeting with visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. But Rouhani had denied discussing any such matter with the Pakistani leadership.

Questionable timing

Former RAW chief Vikram Sood didn’t seem surprised about the current turn of events with the release of the video, which seem to have hit the chances of a revival of the bilateral dialogue process, at least in the short term.

“I knew nothing will come out from the peace talks,” he said.

Asked whether it will again spike the possibility of holding the much-postponed foreign-secretary-level talks in the near future, Sood said, “of course”.

Official sources acknowledge that the revival of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue through a meeting of the foreign secretaries does not seem to be the main priority of either neighbour any longer.

If the Pakistan government were also interested in foreign secretaries to meet soon, surely they would not have upped the ante and released this ‘confession’, sources noted.

For India, the immediate priority would be to analyse the information received from the JIT and to see if it “corroborates” with the details passed on by Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Nasir Khan Janjua to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.

Thereafter, India will assess whether Pakistan is also amenable to a reciprocal visit by NIA team.

Official sources said that there was no doubt that the atmosphere has been “vitiated” by the release of the video confession.

The meeting between Indian and Pakistan foreign ministers in Pokhara, Nepal, which took place less than a fortnight ago, now seems far in the past, given the disarray. At that time, Sartaj Aziz, foreign advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had hoped that Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi would meet in Washington.

The bomb blast on Easter Sunday in Lahore and the continued siege by supporters of executed assassin Mumtaz Qadri in Islamabad has led Sharif to cancel his Washington trip.

Behind the scenes, Indian officials feel that the need for a distraction from the fraught domestic situation could have led Pakistan to suddenly bring Jadhav into the public gaze, three weeks after his arrest.