International Court of Justice President Ronny Abraham reads the order on India's petition. Photo via Twitter
International Court of Justice President Ronny Abraham reads the order on India's petition. Photo via Twitter

In the space of just a few days, Pakistan has been humiliated twice at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

Islamabad received its first blow when the UN court admitted India’s petition alleging that Pakistan had violated the Vienna Convention in the Khulbushan Jadhav ‘spy’ case. Then, on Thursday, the court unanimously ordered Pakistan to stay his execution until a final verdict is reached in the Netherlands.

Pakistan may be humiliated for a third time when the ICJ pronounces its final decision on the case. The speed with which that the court has handled the matter so far points to the likelihood of an early verdict.

India may first take the fast track and seek the immediate release of Jadhav by highlighting the gravity of human rights violations committed by Pakistan and the sufferings he – an Indian national whom New Delhi alleges was abducted by Pakistan from Iran – has undergone. The ICJ has so far supported the arguments put forth by India on these violations.

An early release for Jadhav may further weaken Nawaz Sharif’s civilian government and give the Pakistan military more muscle.

Many Pakistanis are linking their country’s setback at the ICJ to a “secret” meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian friend Sajjan Jindal.

Others question the choice of lawyers representing Pakistan at the ICJ. They allege that the legal team was unprepared, inexperienced, irrational and weak in its arguments.

Barrister Khawar Qureshi may become the scapegoat for his failure to make full use of the time allotted for presenting arguments. Reports indicate Pakistan assemble a new team of lawyers to argue the case against Jadhav more vigorously in the next round.

Strangely, no one has bothered to question what the Pakistani military was playing at when it started the whole drama by kidnapping Jadhav from Iran.

If the ICJ rules out the immediate release of Jadhav, India can take the slow track by requesting The Hague court annul Jadhav’s death sentence and seeking a fair trial for him in Pakistani courts.

What happens if Pakistan’s military ignores the ICJ’s order and hangs Jadhav? Its generals may wish to see the game they started played to its logical conclusion, even if this draws international condemnation. If they drop the execution plan, Islamist and terrorist groups may be up in arms. The military may thus find its hand forced.

India does not have much time left to act. Pakistan’s stated deadline for Jadhav to make an appeal expired on Friday.

As a last resort, India can approach the UN Security Council (UNSC) to save Jadhav from the gallows. But its efforts will come to naught if China, one of UNSC’s permanent members and a close ally of Pakistan, invokes its veto to defend Islamabad.

In a worst-case scenario – if Jadhav is hanged – India may be forced to cut diplomatic ties with Pakistan and could explore military options beyond surgical strikes.

ICJ ruling an eye-opener

The ICJ ruling on Thursday was an eye-opener for many Indians who had been critical of the federal government for internationalizing the Jadhav case by approaching the Hague court.

A favorable final verdict from the court may indeed prompt India to approach it again if its neighbor violates international norms in future.

Lives could have been saved had India acted in this way earlier. The case of Sarabjit Singh is worth mentioning.

As in Jadhav’s case, a Pakistan court sentenced Singh to death for spying and terrorism in 1991. Although his execution was stayed for an indefinite period later, he died in a hospital after an attack by inmates at a jail in Lahore in 2013.

Hailing the ICJ’s ruling, Dalbir Kaur, Singh’s sister, said on Thursday that her brother would have been alive now had the previous UPA government approached the world court. She said that when she sought a minister’s help, he said she should go to the ICJ on her own.

When the life of a citizen hangs in balance over a crime for which there is no evidence of his guilt, any responsible state should do everything in its gift to save him. India has finally acted and taken a significant first step to get Jadhav released.

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