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UN court's verdict on Indian 'spy' an embarrassment for Pakistan

To Pakistan's chagrin, an international court has ordered Islamabad not to execute an ex-Indian naval officer convicted on charges of terrorism. His fate is at the core of the latest spat between the two archrivals.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague Thursday ordered the Pakistani government not to execute Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer who was given a death sentence in April by a Pakistani military court for alleged "espionage and subversive activities."  

"It is appropriate for the court to order that Pakistan take all measures at its disposal to ensure Mr. Jadhav is not executed pending the final decision in these proceedings," said presiding judge Ronny Abraham, reading the court's unanimous decision.

But this order would in no way prejudice the final outcome or decision of the court, Abraham added.

The tribunal directed Islamabad to suspend the sentence until it has had time to hear an argument from India that Pakistan violated an international treaty guaranteeing diplomatic help to foreigners accused of capital crimes.

The ICJ is the United Nation's court for hearing disputes between states and its rulings are binding. India had approached the ICJ in May seeking an urgent hearing in the case, requesting suspension of the verdict.

A farcical trial?

At the core of the dispute is the fate of Jadhav, a former officer in the Indian navy who was arrested in March 2016 in Pakistan's restive Baluchistan province.

Pakistan angeblicher indische Spion zum Tode verurteilt (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Naveed)

Jadhav was given a death sentence in April by a Pakistani military court

Pakistani representatives told the court that Jadhav "has confessed to having been sent by India to wage terror on the innocent civilians and infrastructure of Pakistan."

But India argues Jadhav was wrongly convicted for spying in a "farcical trial." At the ICJ, India's legal team focused its arguments on Pakistan denying Jadhav access to legal counsel and consular access, and refusing to reveal the charges or evidence against him. In so doing, it stated that the Pakistani government had committed "egregious violations of the Vienna convention" and "deprived" the Indian national of his rights and protection accorded under the international treaty.

Pakistan countered the arguments by saying that it met all its international treaty obligations. It also maintained that the ICJ did not have jurisdiction to hear the Indian petition.

The court disagreed with Pakistan's contention and said it would hear the case and seek arguments from both sides. The ICJ also ordered Pakistani authorities to inform it of all measures taken to execute its judgment.

"The ICJ order has come as a great relief to the family of Kulbhushan Jadhav and people of India," Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

"I assure the nation that under the leadership of Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi we will leave no stone unturned to save #KulbhushanJadhav," she said in another tweet.

Bad for Pakistan

Ali K.Chishti, a Karachi-based security and defense analyst, told DW that the ICJ verdict was bad for Pakistan for multiple reasons. "First, it affects Pakistan's credibility as a state on the optical level and second, it gives India an upper hand to make a deal for Jadhav's release," he said. "But Pakistan must act as a responsible country and accept the verdict as the same court (ICJ) had previously given verdicts against India on Pakistan-India water dispute."

The ICJ verdict has sparked criticism in Pakistan over the government's handling of the case, with retired judge Shaiq Usmani telling Dawn newspaper that: "It's Pakistan's mistake to have appeared there. They shouldn't have attended. They have shot themselves in the foot."

"Until the ICJ gives it verdict, the case will go on in Pakistan. But he cannot be executed until the stay order is there. The proceedings will continue here," Usmani said.

It's, however, not immediately clear how the Pakistani government would respond to the order.

Thursday's order is a temporary ruling, as the case at the ICJ is expected to take months or even years to conclude. It's issued to ensure that Jadhav isn't executed before the case ends. Rulings by the UN's highest judicial organ, set up in 1945, are final and legally binding on the countries involved.

Jadhav's death sentence also turned international focus on Pakistan's infamous military justice system. Activists deride them for their "extra-constitutional" character. Under the secret military court system, civilian defendants are barred from hiring their own lawyers; media is not allowed to observe proceedings; there is no right to appeal; and the military tribunal judges - not necessarily possessing law degrees - are not required to provide reasons for their verdict.

Strained ties

The Jadhav case is only one of an array of disputes hindering closer ties between the two South Asian nuclear-armed archrivals. Relations between them have been strained over the past couple of years. The major bone of contention between the two has always been Kashmir, and India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir - a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim.

New Delhi and Islamabad have been engaged in a war of words since the killing of separatist Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani in July, 2016. Protests against Indian rule in Kashmir and clashes between separatists and soldiers have claimed hundreds of lives.

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