A life in the balance: On Kulbhushan Jadhav

More than three and a half years after Pakistan announced it had arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav on charges of espionage and terrorism, India finally received consular access to him on Monday. The path to receiving the access, which should technically have been provided shortly after the arrest, had to be bitterly fought for by India. Despite being a signatory to the Vienna Convention of 1963, which mandates that arrested foreign nationals be allowed to meet consular officers, Pakistan refused the access until it was ordered to by the International Court of Justice at the Hague this July 17 in response to an Indian petition. Even after India won the case for consular access, Pakistan took weeks to respond, offering to allow the meeting only in the presence of video cameras, and Pakistani officials. India rejected this at first, and it is unclear why the government finally accepted those same terms, and nominated its Charge d’affaires to meet Mr. Jadhav despite the conversation being recorded, and Pakistani officials being present. According to the officials who met him, Mr. Jadhav’s responses during the meeting seemed to be tutored and coerced, much like his “confessional” statements that were released by Pakistan during his trial in a military court. The MEA concluded that he was under “extreme pressure to parrot a false narrative”. As a result, Pakistan’s consular access appears to be as much of a sham as the trial itself, which was held in complete secrecy. And Mr. Jadhav, who was not allowed to choose a competent lawyer, was pronounced guilty and handed a death penalty in a matter of months.

Despite the disquiet over the process thus far, the consular access provided on Monday marks Pakistan’s initial compliance with the ICJ ruling, and it is hoped that Islamabad will follow through with the next part of the court’s verdict. This includes a review of the trial process and a reconsideration of the death sentence, pending which Mr. Jadhav’s execution must be stayed. This will clearly be complicated by the present breakdown in bilateral ties, including rising rhetoric over the government’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan’s daily efforts to raise the issue at global fora, and its leadership’s repeated reference to the threat of nuclear conflict. While it may be difficult to imagine such a scenario at present, the two sides must use their diplomatic channels to negotiate a possible reprieve for Mr. Jadhav, or discuss conditions under which Pakistan may be prevailed upon to release him to India. New Delhi has been able to secure access to Mr. Jadhav by appealing to international processes, but the road ahead must be negotiated bilaterally, with the understanding and empathy that a man’s life hangs in the balance.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 4:21:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-life-in-the-balance/article29325455.ece

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