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26/11 case: Pak judicial panel's visit may be delayed

February 23, 2013 18:33 IST

A Pakistani judicial commission's visit to India in connection with the Mumbai attacks case is likely to be delayed as an anti-terrorism court on Saturday sought an assurance that members of the panel will be allowed to cross-examine key Indian witnesses.

Prosecutors informed the court conducting the trial of seven suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attack that they would provide an undertaking from the Indian government that the panel will have the power of cross-examination.

Chief prosecutor Chaudhry Zulifqar Ali told Judge Chaudhry Habib-ur-Rehman that Pakistani authorities were awaiting India's formal response on the issue.

The Pakistani commission is set to make a second visit to Mumbai to record the statements of four witnesses because the anti-terrorism court rejected a report submitted after its first visit on the ground that the panel was not allowed to conduct any cross-examination.

Ali argued during hearing that the Indian government had stated it would allow the cross-examination of witnesses.

He further said a previous agreement that barred cross-examination would not have any bearing on the judicial commission's second visit.

Khwaja Haris Ahmed, the counsel for Lashkar-e-Tayiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, insisted that a "written document" from the Indian government about the cross-examination should be presented in court.

Ali said he would submit a "written assurance" from the Indian side at the next hearing.

Judge Rehman, who is conducting the trial behind closed doors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, adjourned the case till March 2 and directed the prosecution to submit the Indian government's written assurance.

After the hearing, Ali told PTI that the Pakistan government had written a letter to Indian authorities on February 12 seeking written permission for the judicial commission to cross-examine witnesses.

The letter further sought the setting aside of an earlier order of the Bombay high court that barred cross-examination.

"We are awaiting the Indian government’s response," he said.

Asked about tentative dates for the commission’s visit to India, Ali said: "Now the ball is in the Indian court. As soon as it (India) responds to our letter, we will be ready to visit."

Ali said he had filed an application in the court to direct the defence lawyers to submit their travel documents to the interior ministry so that arrangements could be made for the visit.

Ahmed told PTI that the prosecution had not produced any documents on the issue of cross-examining witnesses.

"There has been nothing in black and white so far in this regard," he contended.

The judicial commission will cross-examine four key Indian witnesses - the police officer who led the probe into the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the magistrate who recorded the confession of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving attacker, and two doctors who performed the autopsies of the attackers.

Kasab was hanged last year in a jail in Pune.

Following negotiations between officials of the two countries in December, India agreed to allow the commission to cross-examine witnesses.

Indian officials have also sought an assurance that the panel's findings will not again be rejected by the anti-terrorism court.

Islamabad has acknowledged that the conspiracy behind the Mumbai attacks was hatched on Pakistani soil.

The trial of the seven suspects has progressed at a snail's pace due to repeated adjournments and various technical delays.

Though India blamed LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed for masterminding the attacks, Pakistan has refused to take action against him, saying the evidence provided by New Delhi is not adequate to prosecute him.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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