Spy for Spy: Col Habib Zahir in Indian custody, wants exchange for Kulbhushan Yadav

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Spy for Spy: Col Habib Zahir in Indian custody, wants exchange for Kulbhushan Yadav

NEW DELHI - On Friday, December 8, Pakistan announced that it would allow the wife and mother of the arrested Indian spy, Kulbhushan Yadav, to meet him on humanitarian grounds on December 25. It has also allowed an Indian embassy official to accompany them, as requested by New Delhi. 

The two countries are contesting the Jadhav case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. This is clearly an “olive branch” gesture on the part of Islamabad. Why has this happened?

Some say it is going to be a case of exchange of spies, or a “spy-for-spy” game instead of spy-versus-spy. In April, India caught Muhammad Habib Zahir, the retired Lt Colonel of the Pakistan Army who disappeared from Lumbini near Nepal’s border with India and is now suspected to be in Indian custody, according to The Indian Express. 

On the Pakistani side, it was revealed that Zahir was lured into going to Nepal on the phone with offers of big money.

It is quite clear that this time around Pakistan will not be able to hang Jadhav for doubtful emotional satisfaction because a further deterioration of the Indo-Pak equation is not desired by anyone in the world, including the ICJ judges.

Pakistan and India have gained little by killing each other’s spies: Sarabjit Singh was arrested by Pakistan in August 1990 for carrying out four bombings in Faisalabad, Multan and Lahore, killing 14 citizens. He was later sentenced to death and hanged in 2013. Kashmir Singh spent 35 years on death row while avowing he was not a spy but was allowed to return home. Ravindra Kaushik succeeded in joining the Pakistan Army and was promoted to major while passing sensitive information back home. He was caught and died in jail after 16 years.

Given a more sophisticated current Pak army leadership, it is hoped that the two countries will agree on an exchange of prisoners and not resort to committing bilateral homicide of dubious strategic value.

But not long ago, in April 2017, the “spy wars” were on. India and Pakistan were supposed to stop thinking and act on reflex: Pakistan is a terrorist state causing violence in India; India never accepted Pakistan and is determined to undo it. Jadhav was not only planning the Baloch insurgency, he was also in with the Taliban killing innocent Pakistanis.

Yet, instead of alerting troops at the border, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addressing an Air Force passing-out parade, said: “Cooperation rather than conflict and shared prosperity instead of suspicion are the hallmarks of our policy.” National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua, too, said India and Pakistan “cannot be enemies forever and must engage in dialogue to resolve disputes”.

If Prime Minister Modi was listening on the other side, this could be seen as Pakistan’s smoke-signalling for peace-talks in times of tension even as the media on both sides spread alarm about deep conspiracies.

Talking is not easy if you look at the different ground rules the two states have set for talks. Pakistan will talk nicely but will ultimately bring up Kashmir, which India is not willing to endorse.