ISLAMABAD: Amid stiff resistance offered by opposition parties, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice approved on Wednesday a government bill that seeks a review of conviction of Indian spy Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a military court for espionage and terrorism.
Opposing the bill, the committee’s members from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) termed the bill an NRO for the Indian spy.
The term “NRO” stands for the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf offered to the-then exiled political leadership and under which accountability cases against the politicians had been dropped.
Taking part in the debate, federal Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem rejected the opposition’s criticism of the bill — titled “the International Court of Justice (Review and Reconsideration) Ordinance” — and said it had been introduced in compliance with directives of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Opposition parties term it an NRO
He warned that in case the bill was not adopted by parliament, Pakistan could face sanctions for not complying with the ICJ’s verdict.
“You have misled the [country’s] establishment; we are not sitting here to legislate for an Indian spy. The bill should be presented before the public and bar associations [for a public debate],” said Aliya Kamran of the JUI-F. “The legislation is unnecessary since the judgement of former chief justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk has already said the constitutional courts can review the judgements of the military courts.”
Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP said that through the legislation the government was trying to give Jadhav relief of appeal against the sentence of a military court which is not even available to a Pakistani citizen. “This is tantamount to giving an NRO to an Indian spy and we oppose this bill,” he said.
The law minister said his ministry had sought to pre-empt a possible Indian move of filing a contempt petition against Pakistan in the ICJ by promulgating the said ordinance. He pointed out that neither India nor Jadhav had filed a petition before the Islamabad High Court to seek relief permissible under the ICJ verdict.
Subsequently, the law ministry had to file a petition for the appointment of a lawyer for the Indian spy which is pending adjudication.
Mr Naseem said that on March 3, 2016 Jadhav illegally entered Pakistan and was arrested by the Pakistani officials during a counterintelligence operation in Balochistan. The spy confessed to his association with the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, and to his involvement in espionage and terrorist activities in different parts of Balochistan and Sindh. He was later sentenced to death by a military court.
He said the ICJ did not accept the Indian request for setting aside the spy’s conviction but asked Pakistan to complete its legal formalities.
He said that India was looking for every excuse to file a contempt plea against Pakistan with the ICJ. In such a scenario, the country could face sanctions if the matter was referred to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Barrister Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha of the PML-N criticised the law ministry for what he called protecting Indian interests. He said the law ministry, instead of talking about sanctions on Pakistan, should take the matter related to Indian aggression in Occupied Kashmir to the UNSC.
The law minister retorted by saying the PML-N government had left a loophole, of not providing consular access to Jadhav, during proceedings of his court martial.
Mr Ranjha replied that this was not the government’s decision as the security establishment was of the view that Jadhav should not be given consular access during investigations.
The members of the opposition parties unanimously declared the bill “an NRO for the Indian spy” and requested the committee’s chairman, Riaz Fatyana, to reject it. However, the chairman, who belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), decided to settle the matter through voting.
Interestingly, Mr Fatyana stopped two members from the PTI (Kishwer Zehra and Sher Ali Arbab) from leaving the hall. He then asked the members present to cast votes for or against the bill.
At this Aliya Kamran registered her protest and said the chairman should not stop the members from leaving because he had earlier allowed Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N to leave the place.
During voting eight of the members voted for the bill while five opposed it.
The minister requested the chairman to defer discussion on the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2019, saying he would discuss the issue with the prime minister and cabinet members before proceeding in the matter.
He said if the opposition insisted on discussing the issue he would simply withdraw the bill.
At this Khawaja Rafique said the PML-N was not interested in any bill aimed at diluting the NAB laws as the party had already passed through the “adverse period”.
Mr Ranjha said that due to NAB laws a politician could not even run a lawful business. “I can foresee NAB references against Abdul Razak Dawood and Nadeem Babar,” said Mr Rafique.
He said that NAB should be renamed as the “PML-N accountability bureau” as the anti-corruption watchdog was focusing on the opposition parties only.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2020