Kulbhushan Jadhav’s quest for justice
India’s challenge now is in getting Pakistan to review his conviction and sentence.
Kulbhushan Jadhav is part of an unfortunate group of people whose fate is tied to the overall India-Pakistan relationship, currently passing through one of its worst phases. More than three years after he was arrested on unsubstantiated charges of involvement in espionage and subversive activities, Pakistan provided consular access to Mr Jadhav on Monday. This was not due to some largesse on the part of Pakistani authorities, but more because of a verdict in July from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. The ICJ upheld India’s argument that Pakistan had violated Mr Jadhav’s rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; continued its stay of the death sentence given to the former Indian Navy officer by a Pakistani military court; and called for a review of his conviction. However, the consular access came with conditions – Pakistani officials were present during an Indian diplomat’s meeting with Mr Jadhav and the discussions were recorded.
That the consular access was granted is a reflection of some diplomatic channels remaining open for essential contacts between India and Pakistan. Islamabad has gone into overdrive to internationalise the Kashmir issue, after the Indian government scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status last month, and has repeatedly talked about the move even triggering a war. The two sides have acted in fits and spurts to address the problems of prisoners in each other’s jails but those accused of spying by Pakistan have never had it easy. The case of Sarabjit Singh, who died after being brutally assaulted in a Lahore jail in 2013, is testament to this. The Indian government has already made it clear that Mr Jadhav, during the meeting with the Indian diplomat on Monday, was “under extreme pressure to parrot a false narrative to bolster Pakistan’s untenable claims”. In other words, questions remain about the conditions of Mr Jadhav’s captivity.
India must now take the next step of asking Pakistan to deliver on the ICJ’s order for an effective review and reconsideration of Mr Jadhav’s conviction and sentence. Pakistan’s military courts are not known for their transparency, and questions abound about Mr Jadhav’s secret trial and the status of his mercy petition sent to the Pakistan army chief. It is also unclear whether the review of Mr Jadhav’s case, in line with the ICJ’s order, will be done by a military or a civilian court, but New Delhi clearly has a tough task on its hands if it is to deliver on its pledge to continue working to see that Mr Jadhav receives justice and returns home safely.