FOR NOW, KULBHUSHAN Jadhav, the former Indian Navy officer who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court, lives. On Thursday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial organ of the United Nations, ordered Islamabad not to execute Jadhav until a final decision on the matter was taken by the court.
As far as interim measures go, this is certainly a big reason for India to cheer. Not only was Jadhav arrested, allegedly in Balochistan, and tried under dubious circumstances but even more importantly, India was denied consular access to him despite 16 attempts to do so. The ICJ concurred with India’s submission that Jadhav’s execution was imminent and refused to accept Pakistan’s contention that there was a 150-day window of clemency, until August, for Jadhav. The president of the court, Ronny Abraham of France, while delivering the order said that Jadhav could be executed before the court delivered its judgment. The lack of faith in Pakistan’s claims was palpable.
But all this needs to be taken in with a deep breath. For one, what has been handed is an interim order and not a final judgment. For another, it is not certain that Pakistan will adhere to what the ICJ has asked of it. Jadhav’s fate rests in the hand of Pakistan army, an organisation that is not known for its respect for civil institutions or the law.
There are other, troubling, aspects to India’s recourse to the ICJ. This was made under circumstances where New Delhi was left with no option. Our powerlessness in such matters, despite diplomatic ties and a treaty on consular access for persons detained there, is painfully obvious. Then, there is the danger of ICJ’s interference in India’s domestic matters now that we have knocked on its doors. It is not far- fetched, to give a hypothetical example, of Pakistan seeking the courts’ help for ‘freedom fighters’ in Kashmir. India will, of course, resist this tooth and nail but the danger of international judicial interference rises when India pleads for ICJ’s help in matters that lie outside its jurisdiction.
No doubt these dangers appear far-fetched for now. But in international relations, nothing should be taken for granted. On an earlier occasion, the ICJ did deliver a judgment on self-determination by a group of people seeking self-determination: in its judgment on Kosovo in 2010. There’s no need to fret but India should be cautious.