A Matter of Life and Death
Disputes between India and Pakistan reach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after war. On May 11, 1973, Pakistan contested the impending repatriation of 195 Pakistani prisoners of war to Bangladesh. Held by India after the 1971 war, the PoWs included Eastern army commander Lt Gen. A.A.K. Niazi.
Again in 1999, Pakistan demanded action against India for shooting down a Pakistani naval patrol plane three months after the Kargil War.
On May 16 this year, it was India’s turn to petition the ICJ. An MEA delegation backed by its counsel, Harish Salve, requested the annulment of the April 10 death sentence a Pakistani military court pronounced on Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav and demanded consular access to him. India asserts that Pakistan had kidnapped the retired naval officer last year from Bandar Abbas in Iran, where he was based. India has consistently denied Pakistan’s charge that he was a RAW spy fomenting violence in Balochistan.
The ICJ is to pronounce its verdict soon, one difficult for either country to ignore. For Pakistan, the prestige of its military is on the line. For India, the stakes are as high because Jadhav’s execution could spark calls for retaliation. “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” warns G. Parthasarathy, former high commissioner to Islamabad. “Pakistan is especially vulnerable as they have all sorts of dubious people in Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, and India can strike at a time and place of its choosing.” The 1999 case was dismissed by The Hague on technical grounds, the lack of jurisdiction, but what happened to Pakistan’s 1973 appeal is instructive. It was nullified by the New Delhi declaration India, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed in August 1973, allowing for repatriation of all PoWs. Jadhav may not be a PoW but one such South Asian rapprochement could well change his fate.
AT THE HAGUE India’s Deepak Mittal (left) greets Pakistan’s Syed Zaidi