An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan on Saturday put off its ruling on a plea by prosecutors to declare Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving attacker involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack, and terror suspect Fahim Ansari as "proclaimed offenders" or fugitives till March 26.
Judge Rana Nisar Ahmed of the Rawalpindi-based anti-terrorism court, conducting the trial of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, reserved his decision after hearing arguments by prosecution and defence lawyers, a source said.
During the hearing conducted behind closed doors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, prosecution lawyers asked the judge to declare Kasab and Ansari as fugitives as their presence in the Pakistani court is required to proceed with the trial of the seven suspects.
Lawyers defending the seven suspects, including Lashker-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, opposed the prosecution's application by saying that a similar plea had earlier been rejected by the same court, the source said.
Khwaja Sultan, Lakhvi's lawyer, argued that Kasab had already been convicted and sentenced to death by a court in India and he could not be tried again in Pakistan. The prosecution also asked the judge to separate the trial of Kasab and Ansari from that of the seven suspects and to summon 22 witnesses from India.
The defence lawyers argued that the prosecution wanted to produce witnesses like Kasab and Ansari to whom it had no access and this had resulted in "inordinate and indefinite" delays in the proceedings in the anti-terrorism court, the source added.
"The defence lawyers told the judge that these delays should end so that the actual trial could get underway," a source said. The defence filed an application under section 403 of the code of criminal procedure and Article 13 of the Constitution, in which it sought the start of trial proceedings and recording of evidence against the accused.
Sources said that this application is expected to be taken up at the next hearing. Both section 403 of the code of criminal procedure and Article 13 of the Constitution state that no person can be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once.The defence lawyers have invoked these provisions to stymie the prosecution's efforts to declare Kasab and Ansari as fugitives. The trial of the seven Pakistani suspects has been marred by repeated delays over technical matters. The judge has been changed thrice and only one of more than 160 prosecution witnesses has testified so far.