26/11 trial: Ball now in Islamabad’s court
India has acted wisely in responding to the Pakistani demand for deposition before a Rawalpindi court of the police officer who led the 26/11 investigations at the Mumbai end and the magistrate who recorded the confessions of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving member of the marauding gang.
New Delhi’s offer comes in the wake of Islamabad’s request purported to strengthen evidence against seven of those under trial for the Mumbai carnage— the conspiracy for which was hatched on the Pakistani soil. The anti-terrorism court that sits in the garrison town has to decide, among others, the fate of Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi of the LeT, whose lawyers have been harping on the absence of any direct evidence against their client. The proposal for video-conferencing with the Indian policeman and the magistrate — if accepted by the Pakistani court— should hopefully be a good legal counter to averments made on behalf of the accused. Defense lawyers have been seeking Lakhvi’s bail on the ground that the case has gone on for over a year-and-a-half with only two of the 200-odd witnesses testifying. The prosecution has also failed to come up with its final charge sheet despite having submitted interim charges in three installments.
It remains to be seen whether the Rawalpindi court will accept video-conferencing as the via media to avoid personal deposition of the Indian police officer and magistrate who took Kasab’s statement under section 164 of the criminal procedure code. If it doesn’t and there is some judicial or administrative hurdle in sending our officer/magistrate to Pakistan, New Delhi should, I feel, invite the Pakistani judge and the defense and prosecution lawyers to India for a face-to-face deposition. This engagement can also be on the no-man’s land at Wagah. The short point I’m making is that India should go to any length to not give Islamabad an excuse to either blame it for weakening the case against the Pakistani conspirators or not meeting the requirement of its judiciary that it claims is independent.
The conviction of those booked by Pakistani agencies is doubly crucial because Hafiz Sayeed continues to be at large. If Lakhvi and Co are also declared innocent by the court or let off for want of adequate evidence, the gingerly Indo-Pak dialogue will have to be put in cold storage for a long time. The public trust required to make bilateral engagement sustainable will get scarcer and be extremely difficult to mobilize anytime soon.