ISLAMABAD: On Wednesday, The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice approved of a government bill aimed to review the sentence of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian national convicted of espionage and facing a death penalty. The move comes amid harsh criticism of the government by the opposition coalition and a narrative of refusal to cooperate.
According to the National Assembly website, the committee has 20 members, with equal treasury and opposition representation (a constitutional requirement). PTI has nine seats, and the government’s coalition partner MQM has 1. PPP and PMLN have an aggregate of eight seats with the rest of the opposition seats divided between Balochistan National Party (BNP), Akhtar Mengal’s party which is part of the opposition alliance, and the JUIF under the electoral banner of Mutahida Majlis e Amal, each having one seat on the committee.
During voting eight of the members voted for the bill while five opposed it, out of a total committee membership of 20. Interestingly, Mr Fatyana (chairperson of the committee) stopped two members from the PTI (Kishwer Zehra and Sher Ali Arbab) from leaving the hall. He then asked the members present to cast votes for or against the bill.
At this Aliya Kamran of JUI-F registered her protest and said the chairman should not stop the members from leaving because he had earlier allowed Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N to leave the place.
Opposing the bill — titled “the International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Ordinance” — were the committee’s members from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) who termed the bill an NRO for the Indian spy. The ordinance was introduced by the President and now has passed its constitutional timeframe and requires a vote in the National Assembly to be enforceable.
Rejecting the opposition’s criticism of the bill, Federal Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem said that the bill had been introduced in compliance with directives of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). If the bill is not adopted by Parliament, Pakistan could face sanctions for not complying with the ICJ’s verdict, he warmed.
The bill is aimed to make an amendment in the law to provide Jadhav with the right to contest the decision of the military court and file a review petition, in addition to granting him counsellor access by the Indian authorities. The ICJ directed Pakistan that it had to do the aforementioned as part of its international duty due to the human right conventions and treaties Pakistan is a signatory to.
During the course of the debate in the committee PPP leader, Syed Naveed Qamar, said that the government was giving Jadhav a right that was not even accessible to the Pakistani citizenry.“This is tantamount to giving an NRO to an Indian spy, and we oppose this bill,” he said.
“You have misled the [country’s] establishment; we are not sitting here to legislate for an Indian spy. The bill should be presented before the public and bar associations [for a public debate],” said Aliya Kamran of the JUI-F. “The legislation is unnecessary since the judgement of former chief justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk has already said the constitutional courts can review the judgements of the military courts.”
The law minister explained the government’s position on the issue, saying that Pakistan could face international sanctions and isolation in case of failure to comply with ICJ directives. He informed the committee that India plans on moving a contempt petition against Pakistan with the ICJ. Furthermore, he pointed out that neither India nor Jadhav had filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court to seek relief permissible under the ICJ verdict. ICJ did not accept the Indian request for setting aside the spy’s conviction but asked Pakistan to complete its legal formalities.
Subsequently, the law ministry had to file a petition for the appointment of a lawyer for the Indian spy which is pending adjudication.
On March 3, 2016, Jadhav illegally entered Pakistan and was arrested by the Pakistani officials during a counterintelligence operation in Balochistan. The spy confessed to his association with the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, and to his involvement in espionage and terrorist activities in different parts of Balochistan and Sindh. He was later sentenced to death by a military court.
India has refused to move a petition in any Pakistani court unless Pakistan agrees to allow India counsellor access to Jadhav, a right Jadhav is entitled to as per international law. Pakistani has consistently tried to give Jadhav a Pakistani lawyer, whereas India is pushing for an Indian lawyer on Jadhav’s legal team.