As India Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 carnage, the mastermind of the attack LeT operations commander Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi has virtually secured his acquittal and his six accomplices are expecting their exoneration in the near future.
The Mumbai attack case in which seven Lashkar-e-Taiba members are facing charges of planning and executing the deadly strike since 2009 is still being dragged on in a Pakistani anti-terror court though the Islamabad High Court in 2015 directed that the case should be wrapped up in two months.
Lakhvi walked free from jail in April 2015 after securing bail from the trial court, while the six others are in jail. After his release, Lakhvi went underground. He has virtually secured his acquittal with the Pakistan government indicating no plan to challenge his bail.
The six others – Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hamad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jamil Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younis Anjum – also have “bright chances” of acquittal with their trial witnessing bizarre twists and turns like frequent change of judges and the murder of a prosecutor.
On November 26, 2008, ten Pakistan-based LeT terrorists carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. A total of 166 people died and over 300 were wounded in the strikes.
26/11 Mumbai Terror Attack: Apart from the US, other countries have also asked Pakistan to bring the 26/11 attack perpetrators to justice (File Photo)
Nine of the attackers were killed by police, while lone survivor Ajmal Kasab was captured and hanged after a trial in India.
In a fresh development, the US Monday announced a USD 5 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction in any country of any individual who committed, conspired, aided or abetted the 26/11 attack.
Apart from the US, other countries have also asked Pakistan to bring the 26/11 attack perpetrators to justice.
There has been a realisation in Pakistan, especially among politicians, that the attacks had demolished all the past efforts to build friendly ties with India.
However, there are divergent views on whether punishing the culprits in Pakistan will help restore ties between them.
But like ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, questions are being asked in Pakistan as to “why the trial is not being completed?”
Mumbai 26/11 Terror Attack: A total of 166 people died and over 300 were wounded in the strikes
When PTI sought a reaction from the foreign office on the status of the 26/11 trial, its spokesman Mohammad Faisal just said, “It is sub judice.”
Pakistani prosecutors are, however, quick to blame India for the delay.
Chief prosecutor Chaudhry Azhar told PTI the case can be concluded in a week if India sends 24 witnesses to Pakistan for recording of their statements and other evidence.
“The Mumbai case will take not more than a week to conclude if India allows Pakistan to examine the boat on which the terrorists travelled to reach Mumbai and also send its witnesses here for recording of their statements,” he said.
Mr Azhar, who is also Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency or FIA special prosecutor, further said India will have to cooperate with Pakistan if it wants logical conclusion of the case.
“Crime had taken place in Mumbai and onus is on India to provide full evidence to Pakistan. The Indian government has not yet either clearly refused to send its witnesses to Pakistan or allow us to examine the boat there. If it refuses, the benefit will go to the suspects and the case will be over,” he said.
When asked why the government has not challenged the bail granted to Lakhvi, he said there was no strong evidence against his involvement.
Abuzar Peerzada, another prosecutor in the case, said the hearing of the case in the Anti-Terrorism Court or ATC is being held on regular basis and the next hearing is on November 28.
When asked about any possible time frame for conclusion of the trial, he said: “No…it is very difficult to give any time frame…as it is not an ordinary trial (involving two countries).”
A lawyer associated with the case, requesting anonymity, said: “Since both Pakistan and India’s interests are involved in this case…this is more of a political case than a legal one. And a ‘political case’ has no time limit (for conclusion).”
Raja Rizwan Abbasi, a counsel for Lakhvi and six others, was reluctant to talk to PTI when contacted.
However, a lawyer close to him said the defence is not filing a bail petition of the six suspects as it is hoping that since enough time has passed they have “bright chances” to secure acquittal.
“The defence lawyers are optimistic about acquittal of their clients. Therefore, they are not moving their bail plea,” he said.
Azhar, however, is of the view that they may get benefit only if India does not send its witnesses and other evidence.
The case is being tried in the ATC since 2009. There has hardly been any case in any ATC in Pakistan that is pending for over nine years.
“It appears that the state is not in hurry to decide this case since the matter is related to its arch-rival India,” a senior lawyer said.
Interestingly, former FIA chief Tariq Khosa too pointed out lingering on the case “far too long”.
“Dilatory tactics by the defendants, frequent change of trial judges (at least nine times), assassination of the case prosecutor and retracting from original testimony by some key witnesses have been serious setbacks for the prosecutors,” he said.
Like many others in Pakistan, Khosa too believes the case “will not be over soon”.
Earlier in an interview to Dawn, ex-PM Sharif had questioned, “Should Pakistan allow militants/non-state actors to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?…Why can’t we complete the trial?”, remarks that got him into trouble.