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Now passport delays legal proceedings

Updated September 05, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Sept 4: The long awaited visit of a Pakistani legal team to India to cross examine the four Indian prosecution witnesses, who named seven Pakistani citizens as co-conspirators in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, has once again been delayed – this time because of the non-delivery of passport to a team member.

Special prosecutor Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), who is part of the team and the prosecution of the seven suspects in a local Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), said he was waiting for a new passport as his old one had expired.

“I applied to the Sialkot Passport Office for an ‘urgent’ passport on August 28 and paid the required fee of Rs5,000,” he told Dawn on Wednesday.

“Rules bound the passport officials to deliver an urgent passport within 24 hours, and so they promised. But when I inquired from them about the delay, they said my passport was in the process of printing and would be delivered soon,” he added.

Attempts to get comments from the interior ministry spokesman Umer Hameed Khan failed. The ministry controls both the FIA, and the Passport Office.

However, other sources said that, because of the non-availability of the senior prosecutor, the ministry has written to the Indian authorities to reschedule the Pakistani legal team’s visit and the cross examination of the Indian witnesses, to “September 11 onwards”. The earlier schedule was set for September 5-6 but was changed to September 7 because of air flight’s schedule.

Now it would be for the Indian external affairs ministry to confirm a revised schedule for the legal process hanging since August 2009 when the seven Pakistani suspects were arraigned before an Anti-Terrorism Court of Islamabad.

Their names were cited by the Indian witnesses in the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone attacker who survived the Mumbai attacks, which the Indian government conveyed to Pakistan in a dossier on the case.

In the dossier, the Indian witnesses alleged that Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi masterminded the bloodbath in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and the other six were co-conspirators.

But the defence lawyers of the seven suspects pressed for their right to cross examine the Indian accusers. That legal battle led the governments of India and Pakistan agree in November 2010 to exempt the Indian witnesses from being cross examined in the Pakistani court. Instead, a Pakistani legal panel would record the Indian witnesses’ statements before a Mumbai Commission that would oversee the process.

However, when the panel reached Mumbai in March 2012 but could not record any statements unless the Mumbai High Court first set aside its decision against the cross examination of the Indian witnesses.

On the other hand the defence lawyers insisted that the criminal code required such cross examination for the charges leveled against the Pakistani suspects to stick.

Nine months later, an Indian legal team visited Pakistan in December 2012 to untangle the legal tangle.

In January 2013, the Indian government allowed a Pakistani legal team - comprising special public prosecutors Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry and Syed Husnain Abuzar Pirzada, defence counsel Khawaja Haris Ahmed, Riaz Akram Cheema, Khizer Hayat and Raja Ehsanullah Satti, and the FIA deputy director Faqir Mohammad and court official Abdul Hameed – to do the needful.

A letter from the Indian ministry of foreign affairs informed the team can come to cross examine the four Indian witnesses - R.V. Sawant Waghule, who recorded the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab; Ramesh Mahale, chief investigation officer of the case; and Ganesh Dhunraj and Chintaman Mohite, the two doctors who had carried out post-mortem of the terrorists killed during the attacks.