Despite India’s refusal to allow Pakistani lawyers to question Ajmal Kasab, an eight-member commission of defence lawyers, prosecutors and a court official is travelling to New Delhi today (Wednesday) to gather evidence for the prosecution of seven suspects linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Officials, however, said on Tuesday that the commission would not be allowed to quiz Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman who has been awarded death sentence by an Indian court – for the massacre of 166 people.
“With this visit, of course, there will be some progress in the investigation to proceed in the cases. But legal complications will likely surface with fresh evidence,” observed Khawaja Harris Ahmed, counsel for Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. “The case with new evidence in the 26/11 trial may take a new turn now.”
The first of its kind visit comes at a time when Pakistan indicted seven alleged conspirators in 2009. Investigators have also said that they need to gather more evidence in India before proceeding with the case in a Pakistani court. India accepted Pakistan’s request only when Islamabad withdrew its demand of interviewing Kasab, said a senior interior ministry official.
New Delhi says Pakistan’s attempts at prosecution have been a ‘façade’ and insists it has already handed over enough evidence to convict the accused.
“It will be an opportunity for us to remove uncertainty surrounding the fate of the 26/11 trial in both India and Pakistan,” senior prosecutor Azhar Chaudhry told The Express Tribune.
He, however, did not share details regarding the visit due to security concerns. Both key members of the commission were lip-locked when asked if the commission was planning to request a meeting with Kasab in Mumbai.
“We have no such formal plan. But we will only forward our request to the Mumbai magistrate if there was any possibility,” said a member of the commission. “However, if we are allowed to meet Kasab, it will lead us to collect more evidence,” he added.
“The panel will fly from Lahore at 2:30 pm for New Delhi International Airport today,” Lakhvi’s counsel Haris told The Express Tribune.
The commission is visiting India in pursuance of an order of the Rawalpindi Anti-Terrorism Court to record the statements of four key witnesses the way Indian officials had in Pakistan, he added.
Four defence lawyers, including Haris, Riaz Cheema, Farrukh Hayat and Raja Ahsan, will be defending their clients. Two Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutors, namely Chaudhry Azhar and Chaudhry Zulfiqar, a member of joint investigation Azad Khan and an official of the ATC will be part of the visiting delegation.
The panel members will have a stay of 24 hours in New Delhi. The visiting panel with security officials will then travel to Mumbai on March 16. The commission will record the statements of the magistrate who recorded the confession of Kasab on Saturday.
Two doctors, who conducted the autopsies of the terrorists and victims, and the police officer who led the investigation in Mumbai, will also record their statements on Sunday and Monday. Chief Metropolitan Police, Mumbai will assist the visiting commission. On Wednesday, the commission will fly to Pakistan via New Delhi after completing its investigations, added officials.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2012.