8 Freed, 1 On ‘Death Bed’: Qatar Releases Eight Ex-Indian Navy Officials But One Still Stuck In Foreign Prison

The horrid tale of the Indian Navy officers incarcerated in Qatar jail on espionage charges had a happy ending as all eight of them came back to India safely. However, one Indian Navy officer is still languishing in a foreign jail with no end to his sordid torment.

India woke up to the happy announcement from the Narendra Modi government that Qatar had freed all eight Indian Naval officers. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also noted that seven have returned to India.

“We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals,” a statement from the MEA said on February 12.

However, Kulbhushan Jadhav, a retired naval officer, has been in a Pakistani jail since 2016 for carrying out sabotage and espionage activities, as Pakistan claims.

Jadhav’s story is getting grimmer by the day. A former Indian diplomat, Ambassador Amar Sinha, told the EurAsian Times: “Qatar outcome was expected. Pakistan and Kulbhushan Jadhav are different kettles of fish, and we had even gone to ICJ (International Court of Justice), so it may not get resolved bilaterally.”

Despite the fear that the case of the Indian Navy officers in Qatar could go Kulbhushan Jadav’s way, their ordeal ended in a significant diplomatic win for India.

Contrary to this, Jadhav’s family faces a long night and has yet to see the dawn break. Jadhav was allegedly arrested by Pakistan in the Chaman area of Balochistan on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border on March 3, 2016.

Pakistan alleged that the serving Indian Naval officer was working for India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). As evidence, Pakistan furnished a passport (No. L9630722) allegedly belonging to him under the assumed name of “Hussein Mubarak Patel,” born in Sangli, Maharashtra. He had a valid Iranian visa.

India denied any links to Jadhav, saying he was a retired naval officer doing business in the Iranian port city of Chabahar. India accused Pakistan of kidnapping him for Iran.

Pakistan refused to give India consular access to him. Some reports indicated that the Taliban sold him to Pakistan.

He was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for spying and terrorism in April 2017. India went to the International Court of Justice against the verdict. The Hague-based ICJ in July 2019 asked Pakistan to grant India consular access to Jadhav and review his conviction.

More recently, Pakistan has accused India of orchestrating a string of mysterious killings on its soil. For the past year, a series of terrorists wanted by India and others with reported ties to terror outfits have been killed following a similar pattern. One of the victims included an Inter-Services Intelligence Operative in Nepal.

The modus operandi of “unknown persons” includes attacks by unidentified vehicle-borne assailants pumping multiple bullets into the targets. The killers still elude Pakistan’s security agencies. This could jeopardize Jadhav’s release.

“If you see the recent Pakistan statements on some mysterious killings in Pakistan, which they have blamed on India, it may be tough to get a reprieve for Jadhav,” Sinha added.

Kulbhushan Jadhav wife meeting allowed Humanitarian Grounds
File Image: Kulbhushan Jadhav

Similar Plot, Different Endings

The stories of the eight Indian Navy personnel who almost saw the gallows in Qatar have eerily similar beginnings to those of Kulbhushan Jadhav.

The news of eight Indian Navy personnel sentenced to death in Qatar without due process of justice in October 2023 sent shockwaves amongst the family and friends of the incarcerated in the Middle East country.

It is learned that they have been under arrest since August 2022 and were released on February 11. The episode was “unprecedented” in the history of modern India.

The eight naval veterans worked for a Qatari firm, Al Dahra, before they were charged with espionage and later sentenced to death.

Following a Memorandum of Understanding signed between India and Qatar for cooperation in the defense sector, the firm was involved in imparting training to Qatar Armed Forces Officers.

Following the arrest in August 2022, Dahra Global Technologies, based out of Doha, went defunct, leaving the naval veterans alone. What shocked the Indian Ministry of External Affairs is that Qatar, one of the wealthiest countries today, has traditionally enjoyed a warm and cordial relationship with India.

File Image: Indian Navy Warships

The veterans were thrown into solitary confinement, and India was given consular access on October 3, 2022. It was following this that they were lodged in a double occupancy cell and were allowed to call their family members in India.

Just weeks after Kulbhushan Jadhav’s arrest, Pakistan released a video on March 29, 2106, where the Indian Navy veteran is seen as saying he was an R&AW agent. The video was played at a press conference by the Pakistan intelligence agency.

Then, Jadhav said he left the Navy to join the Indian intelligence agency in 2013 and was in Chabahar to set up a business outlet to carry out “operations” in Balochistan and Karachi.

The animosity between Pakistan and India does not bode well for the Indians, who find themselves on the wrong side of the border.

Sarabjit Singh was an Indian national who died in a Pakistan jail after an assault while he was on death row.

Singh was arrested in 1991 and was sentenced to death for a bomb blast that killed 14 people. Reuters reported that Singh’s family claimed that he had crossed over into Pakistan in a drunken state and was innocent.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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