Pak takes aim at Doval

Pak takes aim at Doval

Kulbhushan Jadhav case

Kite-flying enthusiasts display a kite with an image of jailed Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a former officer in the Indian navy, who was arrested in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, in Ahmedabad. REUTERS

Indian and Pakistani politicians and officials generally maintain a good level of civility, if not cordiality, in their official dealings and personal interaction even during times of open bilateral hostility. In critical and even severely condemnatory statements, senior state functionaries are almost never personally targeted. This is not only because of South Asian cultural traditions but also because personal slights can embitter relations, making negotiations difficult at senior levels. Why then did Pakistan go after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval so blatantly and shamelessly, overlooking precedent, during the Kulbhushan Jadhav case hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently, and earlier in 2016, too? But, first, what has Pakistan said?

Four days after the Pakistan foreign secretary informed then Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale of Jadhav’s arrest, the Director-General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa and Information Minister Pervez Rashid addressed a press conference. Its primary purpose was to convey to the international community that India was undertaking State terrorism in Pakistan. Bajwa said, among other things, that Jadhav had confessed that he was “directly handled” by “the Indian National Security Adviser, the R&AW chief and Joint Secretary A K Gupta.” Significantly, Jadhav’s so-called confessional video named only Gupta. His statement, which is part of the ICJ record, also only names Gupta. Clearly, the inclusion of Doval’s name was a deliberate provocation.

At the time Bajwa took Doval’s name publicly, India and Pakistan had established an important communications channel between their two NSAs, that is Doval and his then counterpart Lt-Gen Nasser Khan Janjua. Doval and Janjua had met on December 8, 2015, in Bangkok, to begin to operationalise the Modi-Nawaz Sharif Ufa joint statement of July of that year. It then seemed that bilateral relations would turn a corner, for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad on December 10, and the two countries decided to embark on the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. A fortnight later, Modi visited Lahore to greet Nawaz Sharif on the occasion of his granddaughter’s wedding. This process suffered a severe setback on account of the Pathankot terrorist attack of January 2, 2017. However, Modi kept the hope of normalisation of bilateral ties going by allowing a Pakistani investigation team, which included an ISI officer, to visit India, including the Pathankot air base. Clearly, the NSAs were in constant contact at this time and yet Pakistan indirectly was holding Doval responsible for handling Jadhav!

Pakistan filed a supplementary FIR in the Jadhav case against “handler organisations /persons/accomplices and facilitators of Jadhav” on September 6, 2016. In this, it claimed that during his “joint interrogation” and recording of confessional statement, Jadhav had revealed the identity of these persons and organisations. Fifteen persons and organisations were listed by name, including former Navy chief Sureesh Mehta and former R&AW chief Alok Joshi. The first person named in this list is Doval. By naming him, even in an internal document, Pakistan had clearly upped the provocation.

On January 23, 2017, Pakistan asked India for assistance in the investigation of the Jadhav case. It wanted to send a team to record the statements of 13 persons in the case registered against Jadhav. They were those named in the supplementary FIR. However, Doval’s name was omitted, while No. 10 on the list was “wife of accused Kulbhushan Sudhair Jadhav.” She was not mentioned in any earlier document or statement. Her inclusion only indicates the depth to which Pakistan has been willing to descend through this concocted propagandist exercise. The exclusion of Doval’s name seemed to indicate that Pakistan was willing to go back to the established practice of not targeting senior personalities, especially through involving them in criminal investigations.

Pakistan’s written submissions for the substantive hearings in the ICJ also do not focus on Doval. However, this reticence on Doval was abandoned in Pakistan’s oral presentations in the court on February 19 and 21. Attorney General Anwar Mansur Khan told the court that even before Jadhav’s “capture”, “it was after the speech of Mr Ajit Doval, a huge blast wrecked the Balochistan High Court at Quetta where we lost more than 70 senior and experienced lawyers.”

Baseless innuendo

This completely unacceptable innuendo is again propagandist. Pakistan’s main counsel, Khawar Qureshi, continued with the diatribe against Doval. Displaying his photograph on a screen in the court, he virtually claimed that India’s sponsorship of State terrorism was “embodied in this gentleman, India’s so-called superspy, who outlined how he wanted to “tackle Pakistan”. He quoted from a Doval speech which was made prior to his assumption of office. How that was relevant to the proceedings beggars the imagination. Finally, Qureshi claimed that it was Doval’s guiding hand behind the trail of destruction and devastation caused by Jadhav.

India’s rejoinder on February 20 calmly, as behoves oral arguments in the ICJ, pointed to Pakistan’s real intentions in seeking legal assistance — only disinformation and baseless innuendo. However, Pakistan did not give up. The next day, Qureshi resorted to school-boy sarcasm while referring to Doval. He said, “If Mr Doval happens to visit London at any point of time, I understand there is a vacancy for the actor to play James Bond…”. Qureshi did, however, concede that Doval was not a subject of investigation. But this did not prevent Qureshi from having one last swipe. He noted that Doval’s words provide “the murky context of Jadhav’s actions”.

India has maintained a studied silence on the invective against Doval. This is only proper, for officially it is best to shrug it off. At the same time, Indian analysts need to ponder over Pakistani conduct in this matter, for it offers one more window into the country’s official mind. It cannot countenance anyone who it believes takes strong exception to its hostility against India and makes it known that its actions are unacceptable. Pakistan is used to the ‘liberal’ Indian approach. The time has come for Indian commentators to call out its conduct at the ICJ.

(The writer is former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs)

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