The bug of espionage

The bug of espionage


One bug which has bitten both India and Pakistan, and now Bangladesh, is espionage. Anyone who visits from the neighbouring country is considered a spy until proved otherwise.

It really depends on the external and home ministries whether a particular person would be let off freely.  In other words, the police force is an arbiter. And it goes without saying that the sentence awarded to the person would be life-time imprisonment or death.

Normally, the court decides. However, the case in Pakistan is different because it is virtually ruled by the military. Still, the civil courts have their role depending upon local military commanders. They, in fact, have the last word.  Even the death sentence is awarded by them. The question of evidence arises but it again depends on local military commanders.

The Dawn from Karachi has reported how Jadhav, an Indian businessman, was sentenced to death. “Indian RAW Agent/Naval officer 41558Z Commander Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav alias Hussein Mubarak Patel was arrested on March 3, 2016 through a Counter Intelligence Operation from Mashkel, Balochistan, for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan. ‘The spy has been tried through Field General Court Martial (FGCM) under Pakistan Army Act (PAA) and awarded death sentence,’ the military’s public affairs wing, ISPR, announced on Monday.”

Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on Foreign Affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has admitted that there was little evidence to convict but other things, he says, add up to prove Jadhav’s involvement. In any case, Sartaj Aziz’s words are adequate. Since Pakistan has submitted the relevant papers to the secretary general of UN, it believes that the verdict, if he at all delivers, would be in favour of Islamabad.

Indeed, it is hell for a person who visits a neighbouring country. He or she is pursued by the Intelligence Department wherever he goes. Even the shopkeeper is questioned as if he is party to the buyer’s selection of the place. Markets want buyers from a neighbouring country because they spend a lot of money. But the questioning by the police deters them.

I recall that once a Pakistani who picked me up from the airport was upset by the police car that followed. He stopped the car and asked the driver why he was pursuing the car. He said in reply that he was not to blame. He was doing what his superior had asked him to do. My friend, who was a leading editor, knew the military superiors. The result was that the car pursuing us increased the distance but it did not give up doing so.

Assume that Jadhav was a spy of sorts, but what could he have spied? Technology has advanced so much that through a satellite you can read from air even the digits painted on car number plate.  Therefore, Jadhav’s guilt would be considered Pakistan’s revenge for some other deed. 

The Pakistan announcement did not say when the trial would commence and how long it would continue before the verdict was handed down. In the case of Jadhav, the announcement mentioned that the sentencing had been ratified by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. It has not been spelled out why and on what ground. 

Since Pakistan has denied even counsellor facilities after as many as 14 requests were made, it is difficult to know the reason for the death sentence to Jadhav. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has warned that if the sentence to Jadhav was carried out, it would be an unfriendly act. The recent surgical strike should be a warning. New Delhi can go to any extent.

Both India and Pakistan should sit across the table and decide the matters between them once and for all. Kashmir may be separated from other problems and discussed at a separate committee. There is no reason that why the two cannot do business or set up joint ventures.

Official trade

In fact, goodwill would be generated if they could only ease the visa facilities for tourists to begin with. Unofficial trade which is going on at the borders can be allowed to increase. Official trade would bring in all kinds of problems because both countries have a long list of grievances against each other.   

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said recently that there was no reason why India and Pakistan could not live as friendly countries. Partition took place 70 years ago and whatever the wounds inflicted by both of them is a painful story. One million people were killed in the forced migration, the biggest in the world. Some 30 million to 40 mn million people had to find new homes because they did not feel safe at their places after partition.

Jadhav is not the last person to face death sentence by military tribunal which has set a new precedent — of trial of civilians by the military court. Apparently, political parties are not happy and they have tried to abolish military courts.  The matter came up before the Pakistan National Assembly only a few days ago. There was a fierce opposition from democratic and liberal parties. But unfortunately, the military had the last word, and tribunals have come to acquire a legal sanction.

Since Pakistan has a large say in the Saarc, it may be prudent for other countries in the region to discuss some kind of common market and ways to establish even unofficial methods for trade and business. At present, the business through Dubai is large but expensive. Agreed that Kashmir is a vexed issue but some ways should be found other than pelting the stones to sort out the problem. Too much emphasis on the Islamic aspect is encouraging only the communal parties and postponing the solution.

Jadhav’s sentence has become another problem between the two countries. The efforts should be how to lessen such instances of sentence-at-will. They are not conducive to peace in the region.