RAWALPINDI: Legal complications have delayed a Pakistani team’s visit to India, scheduled for the second half of the current month, for recording statements of four Indian witnesses to the 2008 Mumbai attacks after the defence counsel sought written assurances for cross-examination of the witnesses.
On Feb 2, the FIA had filed an application in the Anti-Terrorism Court, seeking permission to join the proceedings of the commission constituted by the Mumbai High Court under Indian judge Amer Ahmed Khan to record statements of the witnesses against seven Pakistani suspects.
The Indian authorities had asked Pakistan to send a panel of lawyers in February for recording the statements of R.V. Sawant Waghule, who had recorded the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab; Ramesh Mahale, chief investigation officer of the case; and doctors Ganesh Dhunraj and Chintaman Mohite, who had conducted post-mortem of the terrorists killed during the attacks.
Khawaja Harris, defence counsel for the alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, informed the ATC on Saturday that Indian government’s letter about recording the statements lacked clarity. It did not mention whether the witnesses would be cross-examined or not, he pointed out.
He said the proceedings of last year’s Mumbai commission had been declared illegal by the ATC because the defence team had not been allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.
Riaz Cheema, another defence counsel, told Dawn that governments of Pakistan and India had agreed on Nov 5, 2010 to exempt the witnesses from cross-examination.
He said when the defence counsel sought to cross-examine the witnesses during the proceedings of the Mumbai commission presided over by S. S. Shinde, the Indian prosecutor produced a letter containing details of the Nov 5, 2010 agreement. “Consequently, the commission did not allow us to cross-examine the witnesses,” he said.
“We will not join the proceedings of the commission unless the Indian and Pakistani authorities cancel the letter and assure us in writing that we will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses,” he said.
Earlier in March 2012, another Pakistani panel — including special prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali and counsel for the suspects — had recorded statements of the witnesses but had not cross-examined them.
According to the prosecution agency FIA, the suspects — Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younas Anjum — could not be convicted unless the witnesses were cross-examined.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar told Dawn that the Indian government had agreed in principle to allow the cross-examination but the defence counsel wanted the assurance in writing.
“The counsel do not want timely disposal of the case and their recent request is part of their strategy to make the case linger on,” he said.
He said the case should be decided without further delay because it had strained relations between Pakistan and India and countries like the UK, the US and Canada, whose nationals had been killed in the attacks, were also keenly awaiting the outcome of the over four-year-old case.