Govt, opposition play blame game in heated NA debate over Kulbhushan Jadhav’s review appeal

ISLAMABAD: The opposition staged a walkout from the National Assembly on Thursday after PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari pointed out quorum to prevent the government from laying down an ordinance pertaining to granting foreign citizens, who have been convicted in Pakistan, the opportunity to file a review appeal.

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The laying down of the ordinance, which was promulgated in May, was included in the National Assembly’s agenda today.

But before that, a heated debate was held on the matter as the opposition accused the government of trying to grant an “NRO” to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav through the ordinance, while the treasury berated the PML-N for opting to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) during its tenure.

PML-N leader Khawaja Asif, in his speech, asked why the government was “facilitating a terrorist” who had confessed to his role in promoting unrest and terrorism in Pakistan.

“A terrorist who has confessed to [being involved in] terrorism in our country, against whom we have completed legal proceedings — what has happened now that we are formally legislating to facilitate him?

“When we [PML-N] were in the government, Kulbhushan was a slur used against us. It was said that Nawaz Sharif and we [PML-N] were appeasing India,” he said. “Who is appeasing India today?” he thundered.

Asif expressed “very, very strong exceptions” to the ordinance, urging members not to pass the law as it was “against national respect and honour”.

“What concession have they [India] given to you? Tell us,” Asif demanded. “We were taunted, now this government and this prime minister must tell us why he is stooping so low in front of India?”

Terming the move as “intolerable and unacceptable”, the former defence minister said the government was caving in to international pressure.

In response to Asif’s speech, Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, amid ruckus by the opposition, said that the country “should never have gone to the ICJ in the first place” and recalled that both PTI and PPP had opposed the PML-N government’s decision to do so.

“From the first day, we had said that it was wrong of the then government [to go to ICJ] and it was not just our party’s stance, it was the PPP’s as well,” she said.

The minister said that during its tenure, the PML-N had written a letter to the ICJ declaring that the country was restricting the international court’s jurisdiction. Despite that letter, she said, the PML-N government decided to contest the case in the ICJ after India took the case there.

She pointed out that PPP and PTI — both of which were in opposition of the move— had raised objections over the then government’s decision to contest the case as “there was no reason to do so”.

“If one country does not accept the ICJ’s [jurisdiction], the case is not heard,” she told the house.

She recalled that PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and Naveed Qamar were also part of a joint parliamentary committee meeting in which the matter was discussed.

Mazari also criticised the PML-N’s move to send a Grade 20 Foreign Office official to represent Pakistan in the international judicial body.

“Now that you have accepted their jurisdiction and they have passed a verdict, we will have to implement it […] Why did you go to the ICJ then?”

The minister lamented that the country was now “stuck with an ICJ decision because of their [PML-N’s] shortcomings”.

“Factually, they have imposed this difficulty on our country […] We should never have gone to the ICJ, they did the wrong thing,” Mazari declared.

PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, during his speech, criticised the government for passing the ordinance in May “without telling anyone” even though both the houses were in session during June. He pointed out that the rules and laws stated that an ordinance must be presented in Parliament “as soon as possible” if it is promulgated when the house is in session.

The PPP leader lamented that the government had not taken the opposition in confidence and had only presented the ordinance today after the matter was raised in Senate and discussed by himself during a press conference.

Responding to Mazari’s speech, Bilawal said: “If you did not accept the jurisdiction of international courts, it does not mean that you grant and NRO [to Jadhav] through Pakistan’s law.”

He recalled that the Indian pilot Abhinandan, who was captured after his plane was shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in Azad Jammu and Kashmir last year, was “offered tea and sent back quickly”.

“And now, Kulbhushan Jadhav who admitted to spying and committing terror offences in Pakistan, is being granted an NRO by Imran Khan.”

The PPP chief said that the government had “already given and NRO” to Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s terrorist Ehsanullah Ehsan, who had admitted his role in the Army Public School massacre that took place in 2014. The interior minister had earlier this year admitted that Ehsan had escaped from Pakistan’s custody.

Bilawal said that the “opposition’s conscience does not allow” to let the session continue with the ordinance on its agenda and pointed out quorum.

The speaker adjourned proceedings until the quorum was complete.

Ordinance granting right to review appeal

The Interna­tio­nal Court of Justice (Rev­iew and Reconsi­deration) Ordi­nance 2020, which was promulgated on May 20, gives foreign citizens convicted in Pakistan to file a review appeal in the country’s courts. The ordinance was promulgated after ICJ, in its verdict last year, ruled that Pakistan grant consular access to Kulbushan Jadhav, an Indian spy convicted and sentenced to death by a military court, and allow him to file a review appeal.

Pakistan invited India to move a review and reconsideration petition against the spy’s conviction before the IHC, which the Indian government did not avail. Pakistan’s invitation had come after Jadhav twice declined to take advantage of the law by filing a review petition, insisting instead that sympathetic consideration be given to his mercy petition pending with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Yesterday, the government moved the Islamabad High Court for appoint­ment of a state counsel for the Indian spy, in accordance with the ICJ verdict.

Section 2 of the ICJ Review and Reconsideration Ordinance, 2020 empowers Pakistan’s high court to review and reconsider any decision where the ICJ has decided in relation to a foreign national in respect of rights under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations of April 24, 1963 or a foreign national was aggrieved in respect of the rights available under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations of April 24, 1963.

Such foreign national, whether himself or through his authorised representative or through a consular officer of a mission of his country, may file a petition before the high court for review and reconsideration in terms of Section 3 with regard to an order of conviction or sentence awarded by a military court operating under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952.

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