Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz has said a new team of lawyers will be formed to present the case against Kulbhushan Jadhav at the International Court of Justice even as opposition parties blasted the government for its handling of the matter.The current legal team was widely criticised after the ICJ ordered Pakistan on Thursday to stay Jadhav’s execution till its final decision on India’s petition to annul his death sentence. Opposition parties sought the team’s immediate removal.
Aziz said a new team of lawyers will be constituted to “present Pakistan’s stance vigorously” at the ICJ. “Pakistan’s security is so important and we have to maintain our fundamental sovereign right,” he told Samaa news channel.
He also defended the existing legal team, saying it had “courageously presented Pakistan’s stance”.
Some senior lawyers said authorities had started sending out feelers about setting up the new legal team. “Some law firms have been approached by the ministry of law to discuss such a possibility,” said a law ministry official in Islamabad.
There was also discussion about hiring a foreign law firm with a record of handling cases at The Hague-based ICJ.
“The consensus emerging in Pakistan is that while the country has a case, it was the legal team that let us down,” said leading analyst Zahid Hussain.
Some of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s detractors accused him of “selling out” to the Indian side and opposition parties described the ICJ’s decision as a “setback for Pakistan”.
Some opposition leaders alleged the ICJ’s order was the result of a “covert deal”. They linked it to Sharif’s recent meeting in Murree with Indian steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal.
Shafqat Mehmood, a spokesman for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, demanded that Sharif disclose all details of his “covert meeting” with Jindal. In a statement, he raised critical questions on the matter and sought an explanation from the premier.
Mehmood asked Sharif to come to the National Assembly and explain why Pakistan did not appoint an ad hoc judge at the ICJ because it had a right to do so, and why the Foreign Office did not take legal advice before initiating correspondence on the issue.
There was considerable debate on the performance of Khawar Qureshi, Pakistan’s lead lawyer, at the ICJ hearing on Monday. Qureshi, part of the London-based law firm Serle Court, became the youngest advocate to appear at the ICJ in 1993.
But opposition leaders questioned why the government had selected a lawyer who had not handled a single international law case at the UK Supreme Court, and why authorities had sent a first year associate from the attorney general’s office to the ICJ instead of the attorney general himself.
The Pakistan People’s Party said the case at the ICJ had been mishandled and demanded the government convene a meeting of the national security committee on the issue of Jadhav.
PPP vice president Sherry Rehman told reporters that Pakistan had failed to plead its case and the counsel completed his arguments within 50 minutes, as against the allocated time of 90 minutes.
Rehman, a former minister, said Pakistan should have appointed an ad hoc judge under the ICJ’s rules as an Indian judge was part of the tribunal. She said the opportunity to do this was available till May 10 but was missed out. She added that Jadhav’s issue should have also been raised at the UN General Assembly.
But Aziz told the media the ICJ’s order would not have any bearing on the legal process currently underway in Pakistan against Jadhav. “A stay is granted automatically even in our courts when you file an appeal. But it doesn’t mean that you have lost the case,” he said on Thursday.
The ICJ is yet to adjudicate on the merits of Jadhav’s case, he said. “When that stage comes, Pakistan will forcefully present its case,” he added.