Islamabad/Lahore: In a development that could delay the trial of seven Pakistanis charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, two lawyers defending the accused have separated themselves from the case for "personal reasons".
Defence lawyers Khwaja Haris Ahmad and Riaz Akram Cheema will no longer represent the accused, including Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who have been on trial for over four years. The move came days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the brazen attacks.
"I have separated myself from the Mumbai case for personal reasons," Cheema told a news agency today. He said Ahmad had earlier separated himself from the case and handed it over to him.
The exit of the defence lawyers could slow down the pace of the trial since new counsel would take time to familiarise themselves with the case, legal experts said.
Asked repeatedly why he would no longer represent the accused, Cheema only said he had to look after his ailing mother. He declined to comment when he was asked if there was any pressure on him and Ahmad.
Cheema said new defence counsel would be named soon.
He had been pursuing the case since the trial began in early 2009 while Ahmad had replaced his father, Khwaja Sultan Ahmad, after his death over a year ago.
Cheema was also part of the Pakistani judicial commission that recently visited India to question key witnesses, including the judge who recorded attacker Ajmal Kasab`s confession and the police officer who led the probe into the attacks on India`s financial hub that killed 166 people in November 2008.
However, Special Public Prosecutor Chaudhury Mohammed Azhar said the trial would not be delayed. "There is no question of any delay. The case will go on. New defence lawyers will be appointed," he told a news agency.
India has repeatedly expressed its disappointment at the slow-paced trial in Pakistan. Indian High Commissioner TCA Raghavan even said the trial was in the "freezer" for long.
"We are deeply concerned about the lack of any progress in the Mumbai case. The Mumbai case must be recognised as very important in terms of Indian public sentiment," Raghavan said earlier this week.
The seven Pakistani suspects have been charged with planning, financing and executing the attacks in Mumbai.
Pakistan has acknowledged that the conspiracy behind the attacks was hatched on its soil. However, it has claimed that India has not provided enough evidence for action against the accused, a charge vehemently denied by New Delhi.
India recently handed over five key documents running into nearly 600 pages for use in the trial so that prosecutors can proceed against the seven accused.
The documents include a certified copy of the Indian Supreme Court`s judgement on the Mumbai case, depositions by two doctors who conducted the autopsy of nine slain terrorists and the chief investigating officer who probed the case, and summons to witnesses.
Two other documents contain proceedings of the Pakistani judicial commission that visited Mumbai last month and an application for producing articles recovered from the terrorists by the Pakistani senior public prosecutor, official sources said.