The decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to stay the execution of Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on espionage charges, is a diplomatic victory for India. However, there should be no room for complacency, given Islamabad’s propensity for mischief and its poor track record in honouring the international conventions. The ICJ’s response vindicates New Delhi’s stand that Jadhav’s trial was farcical as he was denied consular access in a blatant violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, of which Islamabad is a signatory. The trial was conducted in secret by Field General Court Martial and the verdict was pronounced without examining the evidence judiciously, reflecting arbitrariness typical of kangaroo courts. No international court would order a stay on the verdict of a court of a sovereign nation unless it is fully convinced of the farcical process. While Jadhav has earned a reprieve for now, the road ahead for India is tough as the case has also exposed the fault lines within the Pakistani establishment. The stay order will be seen as a setback for the military leadership, which is engaged in a constant game of one-upmanship with the Nawaz Sharif-led civilian government. The ICJ saw reason in India’s position that Pakistan had blatantly violated the Vienna Convention by denying consular access to the accused despite 16 reminders sent to them.
Moreover, Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister on foreign affairs, had stated in the Senate last December that there was no sufficient evidence against Jadhav. One wonders what compelling evidence could have surfaced suddenly for the military court martial to convict him of spying and sabotage activities. While Jadhav was picked up from Iran in March last year, there was no explanation given as to why his arrest was shown to have occurred in Balochistan. By approaching the ICJ, India has demonstrated its commitment to save the life of its citizen even though the move is fraught with its own set of risks. It is possible that Pakistan might use this as a ruse to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But, faced with an extraordinary situation, New Delhi had no other option but to move the international court as the bilateral track was not yielding the results. It must be noted that no Pakistani national has ever been sentenced to death in India for spying. It is unusual for an Indian national to be court-martialed by a Pakistani Army court. The usual practice in the past was to try the suspects in normal courts. Islamabad must realise that the political and diplomatic fallout of its reckless action could prove costly.