Freeing Kulbhushan: On consular access

Pakistan’s delay in giving full consular access reveals a non-serious attitude to ICJ order

August 05, 2019 12:02 am | Updated 01:07 am IST

Two weeks after the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled in favour of India in the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, Pakistan has yet to take the first step towards implementing the order: providing him “consular access”. In its verdict on July 17, the ICJ had decided near-unanimously that by not informing India immediately of Mr. Jadhav’s arrest in 2017, by not informing him of his rights, and not allowing the Indian High Commission to meet with him and arrange for his legal representation, Pakistan was in violation of the Vienna convention on consular relations. Although Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry had offered a meeting between Mr. Jadhav and the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on Friday afternoon, the offer came with conditions, including CCTV cameras on proceedings, and a Pakistani official being in the room during the meeting. This was a violation of the unimpeded consular access that the ICJ had ordered, and India decided to reject the offer until Pakistan reconsiders its conditions. India’s concerns are three-fold. First, Pakistan’s delay in granting full consular access displays a non-serious attitude to implementing a clear-cut order from the UN’s highest judicial body. This augurs badly for Pakistan’s application of the rest of the ICJ order that calls for a full review of Mr. Jadhav’s trial conviction and death sentence for terrorism and espionage charges. Most importantly, the nature of the conditions indicates Pakistan wants to monitor what Mr. Jadhav tells Indian officials closely, as much of their original case, as presented to the public, rested on his purported confession. If he shares adverse details of coercion, the court may well go beyond its current order in the case, and India may have a stronger chance of trying to have the trial overturned.

Islamabad must stop dragging its feet and creating unnecessary hurdles in providing what is a basic human right for Mr. Jadhav, and New Delhi needs to keep its rhetoric low, while pressing its case for access to the former naval officer, consistently and firmly. This will not be easy, as after some relative calm, shelling at the Line of Control has opened up with a new fury in the last few days. The allegations by Pakistan that the Indian Army is deploying cluster-munitions on civilian areas (firmly denied by the government), and the Army’s claim that several Pakistani regulars and terrorists were killed in an infiltration attempt by a “Border Action Team” (BAT) have ratcheted up tensions further. The government’s ham-handed reaction to the threats, of cancelling the Amarnath Yatra, pulling out tourists and pilgrims and raising security levels in the valley further, have only added to the narrative. It would indeed be a tragedy if the situation overshadows the fate of Mr. Jadhav, just when hopes had been raised by the international court verdict to help secure his freedom.

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