Pakistan’s opposition parties have labeled the National Assembly bill allowing Kulbhushan Jadhav – the convicted Indian spy – the right to challenge his conviction in the High Courts of Pakistan an “NRO”. Opposition leaders such as Ahsan Iqbal have adopted particularly acerbic language to criticize the PTI government.
We saw pandemonium on the National Assembly floor last week where opposition leaders reportedly gathered in front of the speaker’s dais and chanted slogans: “Modi Ka Jo Yar Hai Ghaddar Hai Ghaddar Hai” (Modi’s friend is a traitor).
Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim defended the government’s action and called the opposition’s sloganeering inimical to Pakistan’s interests. He also exclaimed that the opposition was playing into India’s hands by opposing the Act.
Pakistani media has also jumped in without wasting much time. The majority of them have criticized the government for giving Jadhav an NRO and adopting an India appeasement policy.
Let us separate the grain from the chaff.
The Act is titled ICJ (Review and Reconsideration) Bill 2020. The objects and reasons to the Bill provide that it is in furtherance of the International Court of Justice or ICJ’s decision obliging Pakistan to provide to Jadhav “by means of its down choosing, effective review and reconsideration…so as to ensure that full weight is given to the effect of the violation of the rights set forth in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations”.
I have earlier written extensively on these pages about the Jadhav case. In summary, whilst India managed to secure consular access to Jadhav at the ICJ, it failed in its plea to secure Jadhav’s release.
Thereafter, as expected, India and Pakistan got entangled in the modalities of how and when to grant consular access to Jadhav and his right to file an appeal before the High Court.
The dirty political slugfest
The next logical step for Pakistan was to implement the ICJ decision failing which Pakistan would have been in violation of the court’s decision. The Law Minister’s claim that India would have approached the UN Security Council to pursue action against Pakistan does indeed hold weight. It is inconceivable to imagine India sitting back idle in those circumstances.
But this isn’t all. A rather worrying aspect has been brought to light: the opposition and our own media’s unending penchant for spectacle. The word “NRO” – a derogatory term in our checkered political history– is often used to refer to a carte blanche given to political opponents facing criminal cases for corruption.
That this term has been used in the context of Jadhav for political point-scoring shows the moral depravity that has eaten into our social and political fabric. We are literally scraping the barrel. These are the lowest of lows.
Read more: Did NRO compromise Pakistan’s moral values?
Who admitted ICJ jurisdiction?
Admittedly, two reasonable persons or camps may disagree on whether it was the right decision for Pakistan to accept ICJ jurisdiction over Jadhav in 2018 (the author subscribes to the view that by accepting ICJ jurisdiction Pakistan did the right thing and showcased its willingness to accede to the jurisdiction of international courts such as ICJ).
Those opposing this may reasonably argue that by accepting jurisdiction, Pakistan shot itself in the foot in that it allowed ICJ to preside over a national security issue involving a convicted spy and terrorist – Jadhav.
Interestingly, what has been lost in the jarring political noise is perhaps the most important material fact: those calling the Bill an NRO (mostly PMLN top brass) are the ones who, back in 2018 when they were in government, had decided that Pakistan should accept ICJ’s jurisdiction and fight out the case against India!
— 92 News HD Plus (@92newschannel) June 13, 2021
Another rather disturbing aspect that has shone brightly is the state of our mainstream media: intellectually arid, boastful, and cruelly anti-state. These are loaded words I am using while being fully aware of the maximalist position I am adopting. Let me elaborate.
Read more: Pakistan’s failed media- a conspiracy?
Pakistan’s weakened hand
Since 2018 in particular, Pakistan has been in the crosshairs of a robust lawfare that has seen Pakistan get habitually upbraided by the West. From FATF to Kashmir and beyond, we see a constellation of international criticism – and new requirements, no less – being generously leveled on Pakistan.
While Pakistan has managed to hold its own rather well during these tumultuous times, what it will struggle to fend against is the internal carnage precipitated by disgruntled politicians and a cantankerous media who have their own axe to grind.
Most, if not all, of Pakistan’s international challenges, have some domestic element to them. In the case of FATF, it is the challenge of getting the opposition to agree to support the government in passing legislation by Parliament.
In the case of Kashmir (historically and now), it has been the challenge of getting everyone to speak with ‘one voice’ and present a united front. In the case of peace efforts in Afghanistan being managed by Pakistan, we have to deal with elements (including in the political mainstream) who openly support India and the Afghan government’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric! And the list goes on and on.
All this makes Pakistan unique – in a rather unfortunate way. Fate has dealt Pakistan a hard hand. To this day, there is no bipartisan consensus on what are our ‘non-negotiable’ national interests.
If politicians spin facts to make them more palatable, it is the Pakistani media that further warps those stories to make them palatable to the general public. What is even worse is that elements in political parties and media have joined hands with external forces hostile to Pakistan’s interests.
This is unlike other countries such as the US or India where we see a ‘least common denominator’ of national interests that unite political parties, media, and other interest groups from across the political spectrum.
This brings me to my conclusion. The Jadhav case and how opposition parties and media have responded to it is a microcosm of our society. It has revelated some deep-rooted fissures and political fault lines.
By calling straightforward legislation by the state to implement an international court’s decision an “NRO”, the Pakistani opposition and media have acted with reckless abandon and in the process done more than hurt the PTI government’s narrative; they have irretrievably hurt Pakistan’s national cause!
Today, Pakistan is struggling to present a coherent front before the outside world precisely because it is hamstrung by a moribund political dispensation at home where petty personal interests come before those of the state.
No wonder, despite losing on moral and legal grounds to secure Jadhav’s release, the latest shenanigans by our politicians and media have given India reason to chuckle at our expense.
The author is a practicing international lawyer based in the Middle East and a graduate of Harvard Law School, U.S.A. He can be reached at: email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.