New Delhi: Iran has for the first time publicly said that it is gathering “information” about Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was arrested by Pakistani security agencies on charges of being an Indian spy.
On March 25, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary summoned the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad, Gautam Bambawale, and handed over a démarche over the arrest of Jadhav, whom Pakistan describes as an officer of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, for “subversive activities in Balochistan and Karachi”.
With Pakistani TV channels flashing the Iranian resident stamp on Jadhav’s Indian passport (issued in the name of Hussein Mubarak Patel), Iran was dragged into the spat, especially as the announcement of Jadhav’s arrest coincided with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s two-day visit to Islamabad. The news of the ‘Indian spy’ also came just a few days before a Pakistani joint investigation team visited India to probe claims that Pakistan-based terrorists were behind the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot.
A few days later, Pakistan released an edited video ‘confession’ by Jadhav, where he identified himself as a serving naval officer deputed to RAW with his base of operations at Chabahar port. India, of course, denied all allegations and claimed Jadhav had already retired from the navy, and that the ‘confession’ was made under duress.
Pakistan had formally asked Iran to investigate the claims made by Jadhav and arrest his associates.
In Iran’s first public comments on the issue since Jadhav’s arrest, Iran’s Ambassador to India Gholamreza Ansari said on Thursday that Tehran was seriously probing the matter.
“We are first trying to complete our information on this matter. We are definitely looking into this issue very accurately,” Ansari told reporters at an interaction organised by Foreign Correspondent’s Club of South Asia on Thursday evening, in answer to a query to provide clarity on Iran’s position on the case.
Later, in conversation with The Wire, he said, “Once we complete the inquiry, we will share our findings with friendly countries”. When asked if friendly countries meant both Pakistan and India, he nodded in assent.
Ansari noted that Tehran had been taken aback by Pakistan’s claims. “We were very surprised by this event,” he added.
Incidentally, Iran’s ambassador in Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost had slammed the “leaking” of the details of Jadhav’s arrest instead of the issue being discussed between the security agencies of both countries.
As per Indian sources, with Foreign Advisor to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sartaj Aziz stating that normal rights to prisoners do not apply to ‘spies’, there is little hope here India will get consular access to Jadhav.
Islamabad has been on a diplomatic campaign to highlight the arrest of Jadhav as vindication of its stance that India’s RAW was behind recent terrorist activities inside Pakistan.
End of the road for Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline
Meanwhile, Ansari bluntly stated that Tehran had given up on the revival of the gas pipeline going through Iran, India and Pakistan.
“On the case of the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline, I think we should forget about (the) pipeline as the people who have invested in LNG in India, I don’t think that they will allow pipelines to come in…any sort of pipeline will put an end to this investment. I am sure that Americans will not lead to the pipeline go ahead,” Ansari said.
India had largely stalled its involvement in the IPI pipeline due to American pressure, as well as due to concerns about transiting through Pakistan. India has since floated the proposal of an undersea gas pipeline from Iran and Oman, which has gathered more buzz in recent years than the moribund IPI pipeline.
On the $6 billion debt owed by Indian refiners to Iran, Ansari said that Iran was in “no hurry to take the money out”.
“We are not in a hurry to take the money out. We want to do business with the money, in India and other country. Problem is with implementation of agreement with P5 plus 1. Some technical problems remain which will be solved soon,” he said. Iran has accused the US of subverting the Joint Comprehensive Plane of Action with several Americans sanctions still in place, which continues to limit Tehran’s access to the world financial markets despite initial optimism.
“One of the offers for (oil payments from India) is the ACU (Asian Clearing House) mechanism,” said Ansari, adding that it could be platform to facilitate trade ties between the two countries.
Ansari went on at length to assert that India had security interests in the volatile West Asia region, but also warned that New Delhi should not look at it through the American security prism.
“We can say Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz is the lifeline for Iran, which is almost the same for India. While Americans are there (in the Middle East), they (India) feels somewhat secure. What if the Americans are more serious about pivot to Asia? The Americans after September 11 are facing very serious difficulties in Iraq, Libya and other countries in the region. They are emerging with a new approach with their old friends. All the situation in the Middle East will affect the people living in India, China and those in Japan and Korea, due to the dependence of oil from this region,” he said.
India has been serious in wooing Iran with frequent high level visits, including by Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. Pradhan had gone bearing the promise of $20 billion worth of investment in Iran’s Chabahar port, which is seen as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Tehran is actively lobbying for India to help in internal rail networks to connect Chabahar to Central Asia and beyond.
Iran, India and Afghanistan have recently finalised the trilateral Chabahar agreement and await its signing at a high-level ceremony in Tehran.
“According to test which was done recently, it will be 40% cheaper for indian products to go to Europe using Chabahar,” said Ansari.
Echoing Rouhani’s proposal during his trip to Islamabad, Ansari asserted that Chabahar was “not in competition” with Pakistan’s Gwadar port which is being development by China as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “Why are we are not thinking of linking Chabahar and Gwadar?” he asked.