ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office said on Friday that India had agreed to provide ‘material evidence’ required for taking forward the trial in Pakistan of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, in a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry, “expressed India’s readiness to share the material evidence, which Pakistan had been seeking for quite some time for the Mumbai trial,” an FO statement said.
Mr Jaishankar was responding to a letter written by Secretary Chaudhry almost a year ago.
The Indian official’s letter was delivered to Mr Chaudhry a week ago (on Sept 9), but the FO disclosed its contents after Indian media claimed the latest correspondence from Delhi was aimed at putting more pressure on Pakistan to expedite the snail-paced trial of the accused.
The Indian media had further said that Mr Jaishankar had given ideas about fast-tracking the trial.
Despite agreeing to provide the ‘material evidence’, a diplomatic source said, India was reluctant to send witnesses to Pakistan for testifying in the court hearing the case.
Another source privy to the contents of the letter hinted that a Pakistani judicial official could be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses in India.
The development has come in the midst of worsening ties between the two countries over the situation in India-held Kashmir.
The trial of the seven Mumbai attack suspects, including the alleged mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, has been held up because of several legal issues.
In the past, the FO had blamed India for the hurdles in concluding the case and said that inordinate delay in extending cooperation had complicated the case and weakened the prosecution.
Pakistani officials also hold India responsible for Lakhvi’s release on bail last year as it did not provide the required evidence for keeping him behind bars.
The Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), which is trying the accused, requires that the boats used by the attackers to travel to India be brought back along with other material linked to the case as ‘case property’.
The court has additionally asked for 24 Indian witnesses to appear before it for recording their statements.
The court has already completed the process of recording the statements of the Pakistani witnesses. The trial has been continuing since 2009.
A Pakistani judicial commission travelled to India and recorded statements of some of the witnesses for use in the trial as evidence, but the defence lawyers challenged the proceedings on the grounds that Indian chief metropolitan magistrate S.S. Shinde had barred cross-examination of the witnesses.
“The material evidence and the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses are needed to proceed further with the trial in Pakistan as per our law of the land,” FO said.
The statement said the “legal aspects and modalities of the proposal contained in the Indian Foreign Secretary’s letter are currently being examined by legal experts”.
A Pakistani commission would be required to travel to India for receiving the material evidence.
Published in Dawn September 17th, 2016