Indian-Pakistani Relations Sour Over Spy Row

Last week, Pakistani officials announced their intention to execute Kubulshan Jadhav, on charges of espionage. Jadhav, an Indian national, was arrested last March, and according to a statement by the Pakistani armed forces, admitted his intentions to ‘plan, coordinate and organize espionage/sabotage activities aiming to destabilize and wage war against Pakistan’.

India’s foreign ministry has denied the above, claiming that there is no ‘credible evidence’ against Jadhav, and that his sentencing is “farcical”. They have argued that Jadhav was running a legitimate business in Iran prior to his arrest. His “subsequent presence in Pakistan” is, therefore, a mystery, and can only be “explained credibly” if one were to suppose that the Pakistani authorities “kidnapped” him.

Regardless of whose accusations are correct, this latest diplomatic spat threatens to worsen the already poor relations between India and Pakistan. The former has stated that if Jadhav is executed, “the government and people of India will regard it as a case of premeditated murder.” According to experts, this is no empty threat. Talat Hussain, a defence analyst based in Islamabad, has suggested that the two countries “are heading for a major crisis”. Jadhav’s execution could have a “very major impact” on the India-Pakistan relationship. If it does go ahead, it “will not bode well for both the countries and the region”. When you consider the fact that both countries have been developing their nuclear arsenals, it is hard to disagree with Hussain’s analysis.

Indian-Pakistani relations have been turbulent since both states were created, and disputes have tended to centre around the disputed region of Kashmir. Wars were fought over the region in 1947, 1965 and 1999. Today, both nations administer a part of Kashmir, but this has not helped to reduce tensions, as each side claims full sovereignty over the region. A truce was established in 2003, but both sides regularly violate the terms of the cease-fire and serious violence is a common occurrence in the border zones. This month, six people were killed and seventy were injured in the Budgam district when thousands of people stormed polling stations during a local by-election. The protesters were demonstrating against Indian rule and the increasingly harsh reprisals inflicted on dissenters. In this fraught environment, it is easy to see why the row over Jadhav risks becoming highly incendiary.

Given this, it is vitally important that both sides handle this incident with care. Pakistan needs to reconsider its sentencing of Jadhav. If they go ahead with his execution, it could cause relations to deteriorate even further. The last thing the people of the two nations need is a war, but now would be a particularly bad time. As ISIS are being pushed out of the Levant, they are moving further east and making their presence known in Pakistan. In February, they were responsible for an attack on a shrine which left at least 88 dead. As both Syria and Libya have shown, ISIS thrives in the instability caused by the conflict. If India and Pakistan were to go to war, the chaos would be substantial and ISIS would have greater opportunities to act. India for its part, can help prevent relations from deteriorating by treating Pakistani citizens they are currently holding with clemency, too. By being transparent in their handling of each other’s citizens, and ensuring that they are always subject to a fair trial, both countries can work towards a better relationship. This process starts with Kubulshan Jadhav.