Lesson for Pakistan: Will it learn?

Lesson for Pakistan: Will it learn?

In this undated file photo, is seen former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav. PTI

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has dealt Pakistan a strong rap on the knuckles for its violation of international conventions and law by denying Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav consular access and legal representation. It has rejected Pakistan’s argument that the Vienna Convention does not apply to those arrested on charges of spying. The ICJ has also called on Pakistan to “review and reconsider” Jadhav’s conviction and death sentence. The court verdict is a vindication of India’s stand in the case. A former naval officer, Jadhav was in Iran on business when he was kidnapped by Pakistani officials. He was then put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of spying and subversive activities. Jadhav’s trial was a farce. It was opaque and unfair. Jadhav was denied rights granted to him under the Vienna Conventions. Pakistan repeatedly rejected India’s appeals for consular access to Jadhav, forcing India to turn to the ICJ. While the India-Pakistan face-off at the ICJ has gone off in India’s favour, Pakistan could ignore the verdict as ICJ decisions are not binding. The Imran Khan government could go ahead with Jadhav’s execution, if only to settle scores with India and ingratiate itself with the military and Pakistani hardliners.

Yet, it is possible for some good to come out of the Jadhav saga. Pakistan could do the right thing by not executing Jadhav and initiating a transparent and fair trial. And although the ICJ did not call on Pakistan to free Jadhav, doing so would generate goodwill in the subcontinent. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken positive steps vis-à-vis India. He has opened up Pakistani airspace to international flights from India. He has agreed to allow year-long access to the Kartarpur Gurudwara to 5,000 Indian pilgrims per day. Pakistan has arrested Lashkar-e-Taiba chief and 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed on terror funding charges.

Of course, these positive moves may be temporary and aimed only at ending Pakistan’s international isolation and impressing US President Donald Trump ahead of Khan’s upcoming visit to Washington. It is possible that as in the past, Saeed will be freed before long. Still, these are positive overtures that India should take note of and respond to. While its reluctance to initiate comprehensive bilateral talks with Islamabad is understandable, given the latter’s continuing support to anti-India terrorism, refusing to engage with a neighbour is self-defeating if pursued for too long. India must initiate multifarious engagement – if not political talks at this stage — or at least accept Pakistani initiatives in this regard.