“I am Commander Kulbhushan Yadav,” the Indian man said in a videotaped interview, and proceeded to describe “criminal, anti-national” activities in Pakistan that were allegedly entrusted to him by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s intelligence agency. Visibly unmoved, his assertions were interspersed with smiles and laughter.

After the usual media gaggle, there has been silence regarding Yadav’s arrest. And an air of mystery remains as both the Pakistani and Indian governments have not discussed the contents of his transcript. Pakistan army spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa held a news conference to reveal how Yadav converted to Islam and worked undercover as a scrap dealer at Gadani ship-breaking yard in Balochistan. Bajwa gave details of how Yadav established and administered a network of operatives, and funded and smuggled terror mercenaries in Pakistan. Yadav apparently had asked his interrogators to use the code phrase “Your monkey is with us” to let the Indian government know he’d been arrested. “It is very rare that a country’s intelligence officer is caught in another country,” Bajwa said. “It is a big achievement.”

Yadav was arrested March 3 last year near Chaman on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He is alleged to have put his naval training to use planning sabotage at the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi. He purchased boats at Chahbahar, a port city in southern Iran, and managed Baloch rebels in a bid to destabilise Balochistan, a key province in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Pakistan has often cited RAW’s covert operations in the country and its maintenance of a sleeper-cell network. The Yadav confession reveals the strategy of ethno-sectarian terrorist attacks which could potentially bring Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, to a standstill. Subsequently 400 people belonging to this network were rounded up, out of which three were alleged Indian agents working at Ramzan Sugar Mills, one of Pakistan’s leading refined-sugar processing plants. Seven of those detained were Iranian nationals; most of the gang were busted by tracing Yadav’s phone records. Despite Yadav’s damning statement, the Pakistan government has remained silent on the matter.

India says Yadav not linked to the government

Yadav joined the Indian National Defence Academy in 1987 and got his commission in the engineering branch of the Indian navy in 1991. The Indian MEA Vikas Swarup acknowledged that Yadav is an Indian national and a “former military officer,” but declared: “The said individual has no link with government since his premature retirement from Indian navy. We have sought consular access to him. India has no interest in interfering in the internal matters of any country and firmly believes that a stable and peaceful Pakistan is in the interest of all in the region.” Later on, the same ministry of external affairs claimed that Pakistan fabricated documents to prove Yadav was a serving officer.

Indian journalist Suhasini Haider wrote: “While Mr. Yadav’s confessional statement isn’t quite convincing, the circumstances around his appearance in Pakistan certainly need investigation by India.” Even so, The Ahmedabad Mirror reported that Indian intelligence officers had remarked: “Yadav had been working in the region for 14 years and had become a bit complacent.” Apparently, his accent gave him away because he would talk to his family in Marathi, a language which did not match his fake identity.

A senior diplomat told the Indian Express: “This is, by far, the most high-ranking official — even if he retired some years ago — who has been arrested on Pakistani soil, that too in Balochistan.”

After the arrest, relations between India and Pakistan remained constrained. India won’t answer questions regarding Yadav and is constantly on the defensive, so much so that it backed out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad last year even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had paid Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif a surprise visit a few months before.

Affairs worsened when Sartaj Aziz, Sharif’s adviser on foreign affairs, was heckled when he arrived in Amritsar, India for the Heart of Asia conference in December. Modi and Afghan president Ashraf Ghani monopolized the conference and blamed Pakistan for terrorism. Aziz was not allowed to talk or interact with the media. He was also prevented from visiting the Golden Temple, a holy place for the Sikh community in Amritsar. The freeze in Pakistan-India relations seems intractable since the Yadav arrest.

Indian ministry insists Yadav is a businessman

India has never denied that Yadav is a citizen. Instead, it was inordinately swift in admitting his identity. Modi critics later said “owning up” that he was ever in the armed forces was a strategic mistake. The Indian ministry of external affairs has repeatedly demanded consular access to Yadav, insisting he is actually a businessman. This has also become a bone of contention between the Indian government and the country’s intelligence community as the blame game continues.

Pakistan has ruled out extradition for Yadav and has said it intends to proceed with prosecution. “We have prepared a … case … to prosecute the Indian state actor for involvement in subversive and terrorist activities in Pakistan,” Aziz told a Senate session recently. This is bound to accelerate toxic relations between the two countries.

It is important to note that Pakistan must have ample proof that Yadav is an unlawful combatant or the Indian government would have exercised legal instruments to gain access to its citizen. The Yadav case is the latest confession to Pakistan from India. Prime Ministeer Modi confessed to leading the Mukti Bahini, followed by NSA Ajit Doval with his terror strategies, and last but not the least, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar endorsing terrorism.

India has always adopted an intransigent stance when put on the defensive. It will mention Mumbai but never discuss Kashmir or Kulbhushan Yadav. If he is a spy and is guilty of “waging war” against Pakistan, the government must pursue the case assiduously to bring the spy story to an end before it is forgotten.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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