Indian legal experts extend Pak visit

Islamabad: A team of Indian legal experts on Saturday extended its visit to Pakistan in a bid to finalise the terms of reference of a judicial commission that is expected to visit India next year to gather evidence on the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The four-member team, including legal experts from the Home and External Affairs Ministries, was earlier scheduled to return on Saturday at the conclusion of two-day talks with a Pakistani team led by Attorney General Irfan Qadir.

The team's visit was extended till Monday due to slow progress in the discussions to finalise the terms of reference for the Pakistani judicial commission, sources told PTI on Saturday night.

The two sides are discussing several contentious and complex issues, including the cross-examination of witnesses.

The Pakistani side wants to cross-examine the police officer who led the probe into the Mumbai attacks, the magistrate who recorded lone surviving attacker Ajmal Kasabs confessional statement and two doctors who conducted autopsies of nine terrorists killed during the attacks.

The sources said that if New Delhi grants permission to cross-examine these four witnesses, Islamabad will be expected to reciprocate by granting access to Pakistani suspects for an Indian judicial commission that is expected to visit the country at a later stage.

The findings of the first Pakistani judicial commission that visited India in March to gather evidence on the Mumbai attacks were rejected by an anti-terrorism court as the panel's members were not allowed to cross-examine the Indian witnesses.

Pakistani authorities then decided to send a second judicial commission to Mumbai.

During a recent meeting between Interior Minister Rehman Malik and his Indian counterpart Sushilkumar Shinde in Delhi, the two sides agreed that the Indian legal experts would come to Islamabad to finalise the terms of reference for the second judicial commission.

Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, who prosecuted Kasab, was included in the Indian team as he is well versed with the intricacies and complex legal issues associated with the trial of persons involved in the Mumbai attacks, sources said.

Kasab was hanged in a Pune jail last month after being convicted for the Mumbai incident.

The Indian side also wants some sort of assurance from Pakistani authorities that the findings of the second judicial commission will not be summarily rejected by the anti-terrorism court that is conducting the trial of seven men charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is among those charged with planning, financing and executing the attacks that killed 166 people in November 2008.

The trial of the Pakistani suspects has made little or no headway for months due to various technical and legal issues.

The Lahore High Court has barred the anti-terrorism court from using Kasab's confession while defence lawyers have contended that existing Pakistani laws do not allow witnesses in another country to depose via video conferencing.