ISLAMABAD: Soon after rejoining the federal cabinet for the second time in less than one year, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem appeared in the National Assembly on Friday to explain the government’s stance on the controversial legislation aimed at allowing Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to have consular access and asked the opposition to support the ordinance which, he said, had been issued in line with the 2017 judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and to demonstrate that Pakistan is a responsible state.

Rejecting the opposition’s criticism of the government’s move, the minister defended the promulgation of the ICJ Review and Reconsideration Ordinance 2020 and stated that the ordinance was needed to follow the ICJ verdict as well as demolish India’s plan to move the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) against Pakistan.

The minister came to the house to give the explanation a day after the opposition through a strong protest and boycott of the proceedings prevented the government from laying the controversial ordinance, alleging that the government had promulgated it secretly to appease India.

Asks opposition in NA to support ordinance promulgated in line with ICJ verdict; denies government wants to provide NRO to Indian spy

Though the minister at the end of his speech requested the opposition to allow laying of the ordinance before the house, Speaker Asad Qaiser deferred the issue and adjourned the sitting till Monday evening without providing an opportunity to the opposition to respond to the minister’s speech.

The parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had on Thursday forcefully opposed the government’s move to lay the ordinance, terming it “intolerable, unacceptable and against the national prestige”.

In his hard-hitting speech, Mr Bhutto-Zardari had equated the new ordinance with the “NRO” (National Reconciliation Ordinance) issued by former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf as part of a deal with the PPP in 2007 to end cases against politicians.

The law minister, however, denied that the ordinance was similar to the NRO under which Gen Musharraf had pardoned sentences and suspended the pending proceedings against the politicians. “This ordinance has not forgiven Jadhav’s sentence. It is not an NRO… nor an appeal. It proves Pakistan is a responsible state and will try to fulfil all its obligations,” the minister said, adding that had the ordinance been issued to pardon the Indian spy’s sentence, he would have been protesting over it with the opposition.

Barrister Naseem said it was India’s desire to see Pakistan not following the ICJ judgement so that it could “approach the UNSC for bringing all kinds of resolutions and sanctions and to declare Pakistan a rogue state”. “We cut off India’s hands by bringing this ordinance. Pakistan has done this responsibly.”

Quoting from the ICJ judgement, the law minister said the ICJ had placed an obligation on Pakistan by deciding that the country would have to grant consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav and review and reconsider the case. He said the ordinance had been drafted in line with paragraphs 144-148 of the ICJ verdict that had placed the obligation on the country to enact a law for effective review and reconsideration of the case.

The minister said that when Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, the then federal government [of the PML-N] had taken a decision that the consular access could not be given to him as he was found guilty of espionage.

“I am not playing a blame game but Pakistan could have expressed reservations, gotten out of optional protocol and jurisdiction of the ICJ verdict. But this did not happen and [the government] exercised its discretion,” he added.

The second important date, he said, was May 8, 2017, when India had filed a case in the ICJ. “When they filed the case, it was a cut-off date. After that, Pakistan could not come out of ICJ’s jurisdiction,” he said, adding that the judgement had stayed Jadhav’s conviction but rejected the Indian prayer that he should be freed.

Responding to an allegation that the government did not inform the opposition or parliament before promulgating the ordinance, he said there was no such provision in the Constitution. “There is no clause that says the opposition and parliament have to be taken into confidence first,” he said, adding that in the past the PPP and PML-N governments had promulgated numerous ordinances without consulting the opposition.

Terming it a “sensitive high security issue”, he asked the opposition not to do politics on it. This ordinance, he said, was published in the gazette on May 21 and the Supreme Court had already declared that anything published in the gazette became a notice to the public at large.

The law minister said this ordinance stated that Jadhav himself or a representative from the Indian High Commission could file an appeal on his behalf. Interestingly, the minister himself called it a Kulbhushan ordinance, but later stated that it was not person specific.

“It is for the future as well so that if a similar situation arises in the future, the state concerned does need not file a case in the ICJ but approaches the Islamabad High Court instead,” he explained.

Earlier, Barrister Naseem, who belongs to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was administered oath as the federal law minister by President Arif Alvi.

He had resigned as law minister on June 1 in order to represent the government in the presidential reference filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court.

Earlier in November, Mr Naseem had quit the ministry to pursue a case in the Supreme Court about the extension of the army chief’s tenure. He appeared in the Supreme Court as counsel for Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

He then took the oath as the law minister on Nov 29, only a day after the apex court had announced its verdict in the case, directing the government to pass legislation on the extension/reappointment of an army chief which the government accomplished with the support of opposition parties.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2020

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