26/11: Pak judicial panel fails to arrive in India



New Delhi: Putting the ongoing trial in the 26/11 case in Pakistan into further uncertainty, a judicial commission of that country, which was to record statements of key persons involved in Mumbai attack probe, failed to arrive on its scheduled visit to India Thursday.

Islamabad conveyed to New Delhi through diplomatic channels that the commission would not be able to come to India on its planned visit as part of the judicial process in the 26/11 case in Pakistan, government sources said.

Though no reason has been given for the cancellation of the trip, the sources said it could be due to a special hearing in the case on February 4 at a Rawalpindi court where the trial is going on.

Pakistan has not suggested any fresh date for the visit of the commission. India had earlier conveyed that the commission could come anytime between February 1 and 10.

The commission was supposed to record the statement of Ramesh Mahale, the 26/11 case investigating officer and R V Sawant-Waghul, the magistrate who recorded the confessional statement of lone surviving Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab. The statements of two doctors who conducted the post-mortem of the nine slain terrorists involved in the macabre attack along with Kasab were also supposed to be recorded by it.

The visit of the commission has been pending for close to two years and it has been delayed due to one reason or the other.

The trial in the Rawalpindi court also has been going on at a snail's pace and Indian officials are not very optimistic that the guilty will be punished any time soon.

Curiously, four judges have been changed ever since the trial began in early 2009. Shahid Rafique is the fifth judge hearing the case.

Pakistan has already issued a gazette notification on the formation of the judicial commission and has listed the names of the members who will represent Pakistan government.

The delegation that was supposed to come includes Khalid Qureshi, the head of the Federal Investigation Agency's Special Investigation Group, and Muhammad Azhar Chaudhry and Chaudhry Zulifqar-- the two main prosecutors.

Five counsel of seven Pakistani suspects charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks had informed the anti-terrorism court that they were prepared to go to India.

The commission was announced by Pakistan in response to a directive from the anti-terrorism court that is conducting the trial of seven Pakistani suspects, including Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, who have been charged with planning and financing the attacks in 2008 that killed 166 people.

The five lawyers include Lakhvi's counsel Khwaja Sultan, Riaz Cheema, Asam bin Haris and Fakhar-e-Hayat.

During the Home Secretary-level talks held in New Delhi in March last year, India had agreed to the Pakistani proposal to host the judicial commission of that country as Islamabad maintained that it was necessary to send the panel to India as part of the judicial process in Pakistan.

Pakistan's contention is that the charges against seven LeT operatives, including Lakhvi, lodged in a jail there, were based on Kasab's statement in Mumbai and, hence, it was necessary to submit the magistrate's and the IO's statements to the anti-terror court.

PTI