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The ISI and Kulbhushan Jadhav’s Second “Confession”

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seems to have gone into overdrive releasing Kulbhushan Jadhav’s second “confession” on 22 June. The main aim was perhaps to strengthen its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague while tying up glaring loopholes in Jadhav’s previous story. The ISI has blamed India, clubbing other negative consequences which the Pakistani military establishment faces today from hostile terrorists looking inwards. Both confessions were evidently obtained under duress.

In March 2016, having somehow got their hands on a retired Indian naval officer, the Pakistani military establishment saw a golden opportunity to sustain its oft repeated allegations of the Indian hand stoking the long fomenting dissent in Balochistan. With notorious underworld criminal Uzair Baloch singing like a canary, they added for good measure charges of colluding in the sectarian and ethnic violence in Karachi.

Jadhav’s statement acknowledges he had access to services of a defence counsel during the military court proceedings. It notes his appeal before an Appellate Tribunal as well as its rejection. It records Jadhav seeking mercy from Pakistan’s Army Chief under prescribed provisions of the country’s Army Act. Not only are these steps designed to improve Pakistan’s image before the ICJ about ostensible reasonableness of procedural safeguards, but they prepare the ground for his summary execution, if it is eventually decided to cock a snook at a possible adverse verdict from the ICJ later on.

As questions had arisen earlier as to why a ‘spy’ on a clandestine mission in a hostile country would be carrying identification documents with him, this time Jadhav ‘elaborates’ on how he took his passports with him only to ward off possible apprehension by suspicious Iranian officials (!) while proceeding towards the Sarawan border on the Iranian side. He admits travelling by ‘a private taxi’, along with an Indian named ‘Rakesh’. Rakesh’s fate is unclear.

Jadhav admits his aim was to ‘organize all activities around Makran coast, Karachi, and interior areas of Balochistan’. He claims that there were plans to raise ‘a sea front’, from where 30-40 R&AW operatives would be infiltrated to help Baloch sub-nationals to carry out precision targets. This would help ‘distort and disrupt’ various activities under ‘OPEC’ (should have read ‘CPEC’ – for China Pakistan Economic Corridor).

According to Jadhav, Baloch ‘sub-nationals’ were being generously funded through ‘Hundi and Hawala’ operations from New Delhi and Mumbai. In particular, he claims awareness of a specific hawala transaction of USD$ 40,000/- via Dubai. He says Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar in Afghanistan were involved in thesehawala transactions.

Jadhav is tutored to conveniently lay at R&AW’s door the killing of Hazaras travelling to and from Iran. It is well-known that attacks on Quetta’s Hazaras and other Shia pilgrims travelling to Iran have been the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants acting on the bidding and instigation of ISI, if only to divert attention from the simmering Baloch nationalist struggle. Iran remains extremely concerned about disruptive trans-border activities of Sunni militant groups like Jaish-al-Adl from the Pakistan side. When these attacks got out of hand and Iran protested, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Punjab (Pakistan), Mushtaq Sukhera, known to have sympathetic access to ISI aided ‘non-State elements’ in Bahawalpur and Multan, was sent as IGP to Quetta to try and quell activities of LeJ and Jaish-al-Adl. Iran again warned Pakistan recently to desist from supporting such activities.

Jadhav is made to admit planning an attack on the Pakistani consulate in Zahidan, ‘through R&AW officials’ in Iran. This charge strains credulity. Any well informed security analyst would be aware how tenuous India’s presence remains at its consulate in Zahidan, or for that matter, in its consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar in Afghanistan. Mere survival and maintaining a presence is of essence in these difficult posts. Security of consulate staff is dependent on effective liaison and goodwill of host governments at these stations. Iranian counter-intelligence agents almost succeeded in penetrating India’s Zahidan consulate a few years back. This attempt was nipped in the bud. To have even entertained thoughts of planning ‘a military style attack on the Pakistani consulate’  there in this ambience would have been quite foolhardy for even the most ‘adventurous’ R&AW operative.

Involvement in financing of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operatives for the Mehran naval base attacks is an even more absurd claim. Given the primacy of the need to know’ principle in intelligence operations, even if Jadhav had been entrusted the claimed tasks in Balochistan, he could never have known about what was allegedly being planned through TTP agents from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or Afghanistan. No sensible intelligence agency would put all its eggs in one basket, clubbing anti-Pakistan operations in Balochistan with those allegedly being done through TTP in FATA and from Afghanistan. The ISI itself was perhaps aware of treading on ‘thin ice’ while making this connection, as they later got the “surrendered” TTP spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan to separately (and independently of Jadhav) make the R&AW collusion /instigation charge. His recorded ‘confession’ before Geo TV’s Saleem Safi drew adverse comment from observers in Pakistan, who lamented the ISI ‘shooting itself in its own feet’.

If Jadhav’s dhow, Kaminda, was to be the hub of these activities and if R&AW had endorsed his plans, the address of his pseudonym, ‘Hussain Mubarak Patel’ in the passport could never have been traceable back to his mother’s flat in Mumbai. Jadhav’s repeated references to “Anil Kumar,” or “Anil Gupta” (earlier), as the R&AW operative who tasked him, is an obvious attempt by ISI to extract mileage from the possibility that these nom de plumes were being used by Anil Dhasmana, the current chief of R&AW. The ISI seems to overlook that the Jadhav arrest took place, by its own reckoning, sometime in March, 2016 when Dhasmana had not yet succeeded Rajinder Khanna in the R&AW top job. If Jadhav had actually been R&AW’s man, even by India’s somewhat lax accountability standards, the operational lapse would have been laid at Dhasmana’s door.

Clubbing a reference to a ‘R&AW operated’ website in Nepal in Jadhav’s confession reflects the ISI’s desperation. They apparently believe that the abduction of Pakistan’s Col (Retd) Muhd Habib Zahir from Lumbini happened as a R&AW operation. Again, there is no way Jadhav could have known about such a website or the abduction, unless tutored by the ISI.

Pakistan’s rushed ‘second Jadhav confession’ could have been brought on by the need to show India in adverse light on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. The resounding references on support to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan in the joint statement by Prime Minister Modi and US President Donald Trump would indicate that this stratagem did not yield any dividends.

In effect, while pursuing diverse objectives, the ISI seems to have tied itself hopelessly into knots of its own making. Even as bemused observers in India and the international security establishment look on, it will remain imperative for India’s legal hawks to expose these revelations for what they are worth in proceedings before the ICJ in the months ahead.

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