ISLAMABAD: The trial of seven Pakistani suspects in the Mumbai attacks case remains at a standstill due to a row between the governments of Pakistan and India over the testimony of 24 Indian witnesses.
In January this year, the government contacted its Indian counterpart asking it to send the 24 witnesses to Pakistan to testify against the seven suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks.
The alleged mastermind, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and the other suspects - Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younus Anjum - are being tried by the anti-terrorism court (ATC) Islamabad since 2009.
India yet to respond to request from Pakistan for summoning 24 witnesses to testify against the seven suspects
The government had sent the request after the prosecution in January this year filed an application with the ATC, seeking summoning of the Indian witnesses.
The prosecution completed the testimony of all the 68 Pakistani witnesses seven months ago. At a time when the ATC was about to conclude the proceedings, the prosecution filed the application for the production of the survivors of the Mumbai attacks, the doctors who conducted the postmortem of the deceased persons, terrorists and the eyewitnesses.
Though the Indian government in 2012 and 2013 constituted a commission for recording of the statements of the witnesses, it remained confined to only four of them. These four witnesses included woman magistrate R.V. Sawant Waghule, who recorded the confessional statement of Ajmal Kasab, Ramesh Mahale, the chief investigation officer of the case, and Ganesh Dhunraj and Chintaman Mohite, the doctors who had carried out the postmortem on the bodies of the terrorists killed during the attacks.
During a meeting of Pakistani prosecution team and officials of the interior ministry with an Indian delegation comprising a joint secretary, the director general home ministry and the Indian chief prosecutor in the case, the Pakistani panel initiated a request for recording statements of the Indian prosecution witnesses, sources in the prosecution here said.
The sources said that in September last year the Indian ministry of external affairs offered Pakistan additional evidence which might be used against the suspects.
The prosecution then filed the application with the ATC requesting the court to summon the Indian witnesses for recording of their statements.
“The ball is now in the Indian court as we are waiting for their response regarding the witnesses,” a prosecutor on the condition of anonymity told Dawn.
During the last hearing of the Mumbai attacks case in the ATC on June 29, the prosecution informed the court that they were still waiting for a response from the Indian side.
“Unless the Indian government provides the witnesses, it would be difficult for the prosecution to prove the case, and the benefit would definitely go to the suspects,” he claimed.
A senior official of the Indian embassy, on the other hand, said their government was ready to extend maximum cooperation to Pakistan in connection with the case.
He explained that in September last year the government of Pakistan had written a letter to the Indian external affairs ministry which was part of the confidence-building measures between the two countries.
He said the letter was general in nature as it discussed several issues, including the Mumbai attacks case. “Among so many points in the letter, one was related to the Mumbai attacks,” he said, adding the Indian secretary external affairs responded to the letter within no time.
The official, however, said no formal letter regarding summoning of the accused had been written by the Pakistani government.
The India government would consider such a proposal once Pakistan sends it in a proper legal format, he maintained.
When contacted, Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Nafees Zakriya did not comment on the matter. A senior official of the ministry of foreign affairs, however, said the India government did not point out that the request for the production of witnesses was not in a proper format.
“Had they pointed it out, we would have sent them another letter in a proper format,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2016