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— File photo
— File photo

ISLAMABAD: An eight-member panel of Pakistani prosecution and defence lawyers will visit India next week to cross-examine four Indian witnesses in the Mumbai attack case, a Federal Investigation Agency prosecutor informed an anti-terrorism court here on Saturday.

FIA’s special prosecutor Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry told journalists after the court proceedings that the Indian government had issued schedule for recording statements of and cross-examining witnesses — R.V. Sawant Waghule, the person who recorded the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab; Chief Investigation Officer Ramesh Mahale; and Ganesh Dhunraj and Chintaman Mohite, the doctors who carried out the post-mortem of the terrorists killed during the attack.

The Indian authorities had proposed to the Pakistani panel to reach Mumbai by Sept 5-6. However, because of non-availability of flights on these dates it has been decided that they would leave Pakistan for India on Sept 7.

The schedule was issued by the Indian ministry of external affairs on Aug 23, and the same was forwarded to Pakistan’s interior ministry through diplomatic channels.

Earlier in January, the Indian authorities had asked the Pakistani panel to visit Mumbai for cross-examining the witnesses and the Mumbai High Court (MHC) had appointed Chief Metropolitan Magistrate A.A. Khan presiding officer of the commission. However, the visit could not take place because of some legal complications and in the meantime Mr Khan retired.

The MHC has now appointed P.Y. Ladekar to head the commission.

The Pakistani panel will be comprised of lead defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed, Riaz Akram Cheema, Khizer Hayat, Raja Ehsanullah Satti, FIA special prosecutor Chaudhry Mohammad Azhar, Syed Husnain Abuzar Pirzada, FIA deputy director Faqir Mohammad and court official Abdul Hameed.

Senior defence counsel Malik Rafique has refused to join the Mumbai commission’s proceedings, citing security concerns.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Rafique said that under ‘present circumstances’ a visit by Pakistani counsel to India would not be safe.

He said that under the Criminal Procedure Code the Indian witnesses should have appeared before a Pakistani court, but they had refused to visit Pakistan.

In March last year, the Pakistani panel had joined the Mumbai commission’s proceedings but later challenged the same in an anti-terrorism court of Rawalpindi, saying they were not given the right to cross-examine the witnesses.

In July 2012, the ATC declared the entire exercise of the Mumbai commission illegal after which both Pakistan and India set aside their earlier agreement of November 2010 and decided to allow defence counsel to cross-examine the four Indian witnesses.

Riaz Cheema, one of the defence counsel, told Dawn that after cross-examining the Indian witnesses their statements could be used for or against seven Pakistani suspects who had allegedly facilitated the Mumbai attack.

He said the Mumbai commission would commence its proceedings on Sept 9. The recording of statements and cross-examining of the Indian witnesses would take about four days after which the Pakistani panel would return home by Sept 14.