Indians beat an effigy of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a protest in April against the death sentence given to former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistan. Photo: Reuters / Pawan Kumar

In a major diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan and a “win” for India, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has stayed the execution of a retired Indian navy officer found guilty of “spying” by a kangaroo court in Pakistan last month.

The ICJ’s ruling came after India’s submission on May 8 that Kulbushan Jadhav, 46, was visiting Iran on business when he was abducted from the port of Chabahar by Pakistani military, jailed, drugged, forced to confess, denied a fair trial and denied consular access.

India told the court it came to know about Jadhav’s death sentence only through a press release.

The ICJ’s orders are binding – but the Hague-based court does not have the power to implement them. Hence Pakistan may go ahead with Jadhav’s execution by quoting its own rules on dealing with spies and saboteurs. So far, Islamabad has not responded to the court order.

Islamabad’s repeated denial of consular access to Jadhav makes it a possibility he may already have been executed. So far, Pakistan has not addressed India’s inquiries about his whereabouts or his state of health.

For Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, ICJ President Justice Ronny Abraham’s letter asking him to stay the execution is a big setback. It comes close on the heels of border clashes between Pakistani and Afghan troops and Iran’s threat to launch surgical strikes against terrorist havens inside Pakistan if attacks against Tehran’s border guards continue.

All is not well between Sharif’s government and Pakistan’s military either, after a news report last year said the government had warned the military to rein in militants or face international isolation.

Kulbhushan Jadhav. Photo from confession video, via YouTube.

The death sentence against Jadhav shows Pakistani military’s superiority over the civilian government. He fits into their narrative that it is India that is sending terrorists across the border to foment trouble in Balochistan and other areas. But the ICJ order has nailed Pakistan’s lie.

For India, the days ahead are crucial. It should exert pressure on nations in world forums to prevent Pakistan from carrying out Jadhav’s “pre-meditated murder.” Along with his mother, Avanti Jadhav, 1.3 billion Indians want him back alive, even if it means a long wait.

The next ICJ hearing of the case starts on May 15. Senior lawyer Harish Salve is representing India at the ICJ. A group of judges will hear the case.

Pakistan may try to build a stronger case against Jadhav to convince the ICJ he was behind acts of sabotage in Pakistan. However, all accusations against him are already exaggerated.

Jadhav fits into Pakistan’s narrative that it is India that is sending terrorists across the border to foment trouble in Balochistan and other areas

By repeatedly rejecting consular access to Jadhav, Islamabad has also violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. It has also kept Jadhav’s family waiting. His mother filed an appeal last month seeking a stay on the death sentence from a higher court in Pakistan.

For some time, India had been avoiding approaching the ICJ as it did not wish to “internationalize” issues relating to Pakistan, especially Kashmir. However, Pakistan’s violation of all norms convinced it to go down that route.

Pakistan unsuccessfully moved the ICJ against India in 1999 after a Pakistani navy patrol plane was shot down in Indian air space over the Rann of Kutch.

Relations between the two nuclear neighbors chilled after Pakistani terrorists attacked the Pathankot Air Force station early last year. Ties hit a new low after Pakistani troops killed and beheaded two Indian soldiers near the line of control in the Krishna Ghati sector of Jammu and Kashmir on May 1.

On May 10, the body of an Indian army officer was found with bullet wounds near a bus stop in Kashmir’s Kulgam district.

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