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Angry and embarrassed over death sentence awarded by a Military Field General Court Martial (MFGCM) to its RAW agent, Kulbhushan Jadhav, arrested last year in Balochistan, India has been ranting and raving against this country, and its media whipping up anti-Pakistan frenzy. While accusing Pakistan of sentencing an Indian citizen without due process of law, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj threatened to go to any lengths, warning Islamabad "to consider the consequences for our bilateral relationship if they proceed on this matter." One impending consequence is use of a long retired Lieutenant Colonel Habib Zahir, who disappeared earlier this month from Nepal, as a bargaining chip. His internet record shows he was lured by a job offer to come to Nepal - where RAW is known to have a heavy presence - through false internet ID and address. In a "first retaliatory step" according to an Indian Express report, against the death sentence, New Delhi has decided to limit issuance of visas to Pakistanis, singling out artists, singers and actors for "maximum visibility" effect. None of it is going to help Jadhav's case, though; what can work is a calm, thoughtful handling of the matter.

In his first public response to Indian allegations at a media briefing in Islamabad on Friday, Prime Minister's Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, raised the most pertinent question as to what Jadhav had been doing in Pakistan carrying a genuine Indian passport issued in a fake Muslim name, Hussein Mubarak Patel? As for the complaint that consular access to him was denied, the Foreign Office spokesman had already explained a day earlier that as per the 2008 bilateral agreement, "in all instances of security and political-related matters the merit of the case would be considered", which means Pakistan is within its rights to decide whether or not give India access to its RAW operative. Aziz also shared with the media details and timeline of various acts of terrorism and sabotage for which Jadhav have been found guilty by the MFGCM. The way forward, therefore, is to allow the law take its own course, and engage Islamabad in a meaningful dialogue. The convict has 40 days to appeal the verdict in a military court of appeals, and also go to the Supreme Court if feels he did not get due process. Furthermore, he can ask the Army chief and the President for clemency.

Inflammatory rhetoric emanating from New Delhi will only exacerbate tensions, which is in neither country's interest. As regards the present case, Aziz has rightly counselled India to "behave responsibly, and refrain from issuing statements that will further aggravate people-to-people hostility." Regrettably, however, as noted earlier New Delhi has already decided to up the ante on that account putting restrictions on visas for Pakistanis expressly aimed at "maximum visibility" of the move. Which is unsurprising considering the Modi government's credentials. As long as that country's Hindu nationalist prime minister is in power, Pak-India normalizations will remain a vain hope. The least that can be hoped for is to maintain bilateral relations at a manageable level. Towards that end, the international community needs to play a more proactive role. For his part, in his recent speech Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, once again, extended India the olive branch. Let the international community nudge New Delhi to grasp it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017

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