A Pakistani Judicial Commission on Friday began recording the statements of key witnesses in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks after a metropolitan court dismissed its plea for cross-examining them following a wrangle over the mandate of the panel.
The in-camera proceedings at the Esplanade Court saw a dispute arise over the mandate of the panel which insisted on cross-examination of the witnesses, including the magistrate who had recorded the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving perpetrator of the massacre of 166 people.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, who had led the trial against Kasab, and was assisting the witnesses, objected to the commission's plea and there was a "hot exchange of words" between him and the panel members, a source close to the proceedings said.
When the head of the visiting Commission and Pakistan's Special Public Prosecutor Zulfiqar Ali contended that cross-examination was legally permitted, Nikam asked him to inform the court about the arrangement mutually agreed upon by the two countries.
As Ali continued to insist on cross-examination, Nikam said Indian CrPC provided for adherence to what had been agreed upon by the two countries while making such an arrangement.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate S S Shinde finally disallowed the commission from cross-examining the witnesses, accepting Nikam's plea that both the countries had mutually agreed in October 2010 that only their statements would be recorded.
Moreover, Nikam argued that since the appeal of Kasab against his conviction and death penalty was pending in the Supreme Court, legal proceedings in India would be hampered if witnesses were allowed to be cross-examined at this stage.
Following permission from CMM Shinde, the panel began recording the statement of magistrate R V Sawant Waghule, who had recorded the confession of Kasab soon after his arrest following the attacks.
It took over an hour to record the statement of Waghule, sources said. Waghule informed the Pakistani panel that Kasab had said in his confessional statement that LeT had sent him and nine other terrorists to Mumbai to carry out the attacks.
Kasab had also stated that he wanted to make the confession so that others like him should draw inspiration, the magistrate said.
Waghule further informed the Commission that Kasab had, in his voluntary confession, narrated his role in the terror attacks.
The 8-member Judicial Commission is in Mumbai to record the statements of four witnesses on behalf of a Pakistani anti-terror court which is currently hearing the case against
LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and six other suspects in the 26/11 attacks in that country. The statements would be used as evidence against the accused during the trial.
Waghule's statement concluded on Friday, while those of Investigating officer in the 26/11 case Ramesh Mahale and the two doctors who had conducted autopsies on the nine slain terrorists and the victims would be recorded on Saturday.
The Pakistani commission had arrived in Mumbai on Thursday by an Air-India flight amidst tight security after repeated postponement of their visit.
According to Nikam, the evidence of these witnesses would help Pakistan nail the perpetrators of the brazen attack that left in its bloody trail 166 dead, including foreigners, and many more wounded.
"The evidence of these four witnesses are crucial for Pakistani prosecuting agency so that they can use these statements for successful prosecution of the perpetrators of the attack," sources said.
Besides Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, other members of the panel are prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar, Azad Khan, deputy director of the Federal Investigation Agency and defence lawyers Khwaja Haris, Riyaz Akram Choudhary, Fakhar Haayat, Raja Ehassan Ulhakhan and Isaam Bin Haris.
The anti-terrorism court in Pakistan is conducting the trial of seven suspects, including Lakhvi, who have been charged with planning, financing and executing the terror attacks.
Pakistani prosecutors have said the commission's visit to India is necessary to take forward the trial which has been stalled due to legal hurdles.
On November 26, 2008, Kasab and accomplices had landed by sea and unleashed mindless violence at the city's landmarks like hotel Taj Mahal, Oberoi hotel and Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway terminus, firing indiscriminately and mowing down people during a bloody siege that lasted over 70 hours.