26/11 trial in Pakistan court adjourned again

Islamabad:  An anti-terrorism court today adjourned the trial of seven suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks till March 2 after prosecutors said they would submit an assurance from the Indian government that a Pakistani judicial commission will be allowed to cross-examine Indian witnesses.

The Pakistani commission is set to make a second visit to Mumbai to record the statements of four key witnesses as the anti-terrorism court rejected a report submitted after its first visit on the ground that members of the panel were not allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.

Khwaja Haris Ahmed, the counsel for Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, had filed two applications in the court.

One sought the quashing of an earlier agreement between the Pakistani and Indian governments that barred the cross-examination of witnesses and the other sought the cancellation of an order of the Bombay High Court that placed a bar on cross-examination.

Chief prosecutor Chaudhry Zulifqar Ali argued during today's hearing that the Indian government had allowed the cross-examination of witnesses and the previous agreement between the two countries did not any bearing on the judicial commission's planned visit.

However, Ahmed insisted that a "written document" from the Indian government about the cross-examination of witnesses should be presented in court.

Ali said he would submit a "written assurance" from the Indian government at the next hearing.

Judge Chaudhry Habib-ur-Rehman, who is conducting the trial behind closed doors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi, then adjourned the case till March 2 and directed the prosecution to submit the written assurance from the Indian government.

After the hearing, Ahmed told PTI that the prosecution had said at an earlier hearing that the Indian government had said it would permit the cross-examination of witnesses. "But there has been nothing in black and white so far in this regard," he contended.

The Pakistani judicial commission will cross-examine four key Indian witnesses - the police officer who led the probe into the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the magistrate who recorded the confession of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving attacker, and two doctors who performed the autopsies of the attackers. Kasab was hanged last year in a jail in Pune.

Following negotiations between officials of the two countries in December, India agreed to allow the commission to cross-examine witnesses.

Indian officials have also sought an assurance that the panel's findings will not again be rejected by the anti-terrorism court.

Islamabad has acknowledged that the conspiracy behind the Mumbai attacks was hatched on Pakistani soil.

The trial of the seven suspects has progressed at a snail's pace due to repeated adjournments and various technical delays.

Though India blamed LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed for masterminding the attacks, Pakistan has refused to take action against him, saying the evidence provided by New Delhi is not adequate to prosecute him.

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