–ATC judge summons last two Pakistani witnesses to record statements so that ‘trial may conclude expeditiously’
–Orders govt to inform it about availability of 27 Indian nationals so that it can proceed further in the case
ISLAMABAD: An anti-terrorism court on Wednesday 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”, as it resumed the hearing of the 2008 Mumbai attacks case.
The Mumbai attacks reemerged in headlines recently after ousted premier Nawaz Sharif on Saturday, in a controversial interview with a local English daily, had asked: “Why can’t we complete the trial?”
The case is being tried in the ATC since 2009.
On Wednesday, Dera Ghazi Khan District Police Officer Sohail Habib Tajik recorded his statement before ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand. The statements of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Additional Director General Wajid Zia and another official, Zahid Akhter, are pending. The prosecutors sought adjournment in the hearing due to other engagements, to which the court ordered Akhter to appear in the next hearing, while Zia was summoned on May 23. The prosecution completed the testimonies of 68 Pakistani witnesses last year.
The court “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 the 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 order stated.
“The response of said three senior government representatives duly signed by them personally shall reach this court till next date,” it added.
The Pakistani government had contacted Indian authorities in Jan 2016, asking them to send the witnesses to Pakistan to testify against the Mumbai attacks suspects, including the alleged mastermind. 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.
The lone surviving attacker, Kasab, was caught injured and was executed by India in 2012 before he could record his statement in front of Pakistani investigators.
In September 2016, India finally agreed to share the material evidence. 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 hub. 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 asked India to provide incriminating evidence against him so that he can be held in jail and tried effectively.
Meanwhile, Lakhvi’s request for exemption from appearing in court on Wednesday was accepted by the judge.