An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Islamabad, resuming hearing of the 2008 Mumbai attacks case on Wednesday, has summoned the last two Pakistani prosecution witnesses and directed government officials to submit details regarding the availability of 27 Indian witnesses in the next hearing "so as to conclude the trial expeditiously".
The case is being tried in the ATC since 2009.
The Mumbai attacks, which took place in 2008, resurfaced in recent headlines, with progress in the trial coming under question, when ousted premier Nawaz Sharif in an interview on Saturday had asked: "Why can’t we complete the trial?"
The court today resumed hearing the case, with District Police Officer Dera Ghazi Khan Sohail Habib Tajik recording his statement in court before ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand.
The statements of two more Pakistani witnesses ─ Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director General Wajid Zia and another official, Zahid Akhter ─ are still required.
The prosecutors today, however, sought adjournment due to engagements at the accountability courts. The court subsequently asked Akhter to appear in the next hearing, while Zia will be "summoned for prosecution evidence on May 23".
The prosecution completed the testimonies of 68 Pakistani witnesses last year.
The court today "observed with concern that since January 2016 upon the request of the prosecution, government functionaries sitting at the helm of affairs were directed repeatedly for producing 27 Indian nationals so as to give evidence in instant case, but till date no serious and final response has been given by the government".
"Now the case is in the final stages and only statements of two Pakistani officials have to be recorded, therefore, notice be served upon DG FIA, secretary of Interior and secretary for Foreign Affairs for submitting their final and concrete response in the court qua the availability of 27 Indian nationals so as to conclude the trial expeditiously," the court said.
"The response of said three senior government representatives duly signed by them personally shall reach this court till next date," it added.
In Jan 2016, the government had contacted New Delhi asking it to send the witnesses to Pakistan to testify against the Mumbai attacks suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the attacks.
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 ATC in Islamabad since 2009. In August last year, the FIA also arrested Sufyan Zafar, the alleged financier of the attack.
In September 2016, India finally agreed to share material evidence regarding the Mumbai attacks.
At the time of the attacks, Lakhvi was believed to be the operational head of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that has been accused by India of carrying out the attacks in India's financial capital. Lakhvi along with Zarar Shah was allegedly the key planner of the attack that killed 166 people.
Though a prime suspect in the case, the Lahore High Court had released Lakhvi on post-arrest bail in 2015 after he furnished Rs2 million in surety bonds.
The Indian government lodged a strong protest over his release; however, the Pakistani authorities demanded that India provide incriminating evidence against him so he can be held in jail and tried effectively.
Lakhvi's request for exemption from appearing in court today was accepted.