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NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD: A special court of India’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on Wednesday acquitted all four accused in the 2007 Samjhauta blasts case in which 68 people were killed, including 42 Pakistanis.

The court in Panchkula also dismissed an application seeking permission for deposition of Pakistani witnesses in the case.

“The NIA Special Court has concluded that the investigating agency has failed to prove the conspiracy charge and ruled that accused deserve a benefit of doubt,” reports quoted NIA Counsel R.K. Handa as saying.

The NIA in its charge-sheet had named eight persons as accused. Among them were Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary, who appeared before the court, while Sunil Joshi, the alleged mastermind of the attack, was killed in December 2007.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office says judgement has exposed India’s hypocrisy on terrorism

The three other accused — Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange and Amit — are still at large and have been declared proclaimed offenders.

The trial had been going on since 2010 at the Panchkula NIA court and around 224 witnesses, out of the total 299, had deposed before the court.

The Samjhauta Express, also called the Attari Express, is a bi-weekly train that runs on Wednesdays and Sundays between Delhi and Attari in India and Lahore in Pakistan. The blasts in Samjhauta Express coaches took place near Panipat in Haryana on February 18, 2007, when the train was on its way to Attari near Amritsar, the last railway station on the Indian side.

According to the NIA case, the blasts were carried out in pursuance of a criminal conspiracy aimed at threatening the “unity, integrity, security and sovereignty” of India.

In the case, the NIA said that Aseemanand was the main ideological support behind the conspiracy and he also provided some financial support to those who carried out the task besides knowingly providing shelter to them.

Earlier, the court dismissed an application filed by a Pakistani woman, Rahila Wakeel, in connection with the case.

Advocate Momin Malik, the counsel for Ms Wakeel, told reporters that the court dismissed her application filed on March 11 to get her statement recorded as witness in the case. “We will now approach the high court to challenge the decision,” he said.

Ms Wakeel is the daughter of one of the victims of the blasts, reports said.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office denounced the judgement and said it exposed the Indian hypocrisy on terrorism and state policy of patronising Hindu terrorists.

Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad Ajay Bisaria was summoned to the Foreign Office by acting Foreign Secretary Shah Jamal to receive the protest.

HC Bisaria was told that the acquittal of the accused 11 years after the terrorist attack “makes a travesty of justice and exposes the sham credibility of the Indian courts”.

“It also belies the rampant Indian duplicity and hypocrisy where India reflexively levels allegations of terrorism against Pakistan, while protecting with impunity, terrorists who had publicly confessed to their odious crimes,” the Indian envoy was told.

The acting foreign secretary said the “systemic Indian decision to gradually exonerate and finally acquit the perpetrators” not only showed their callousness towards the heirs of the victims, who had been waiting for justice, but also revealed the Indian state policy of promoting and protecting Hindu terrorists.

Aseemanand, a 67-year-old priest and activist of Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the main accused among those who faced the trial, has already been cleared in other cases of attacks against Muslims, including the 2007 bombings at Hyderabad’s Makkah Masjid and Rajasthan’s Ajmer Dargah.

Mr Jamal said that India should explore judicial remedies to ensure that the perpetrators of the blasts were brought to justice.

He recalled that Pakistan had on a number of occasions over the past 11 years reminded about the lack of progress in the case and expressed concern about attempts to exonerate the perpetrators of the crime.

“The issue was raised repeatedly, including on the sidelines of the Senior Officials, Heart of Asia Meeting in 2016. Formal demarches were also lodged regularly with India on the lack of progress and acquittal of the accused in other cases,” the secretary said.

Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal, meanwhile, said the release of the Samjhauta bombing accused “is an “extreme step” by India. “What will we tell the heirs of the 42 [Pakistani] people who were martyred in the incident?”

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019