Follow by Email

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The 26/11 Case - How Pakistan and its Judiciary Help the Terrorists - Part IV

This series was interrupted by the unfortunate incident at Islamabad of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. I will now resume our understanding of how the Pakistani Government and the Judiciary help the terrorists. I wrote in the the last part of how eventually Justice Baqir Ali Rana framed the charges on October 10 and how he immediately asked the Lahore High Court (LHC) to relieve him from the case due to 'unavoidable personal reasons' and how the accused also demanded the same, leading to its prompt compliance by the LHC. Thus, a new judge, Justice Malik Muhammad Akram Awan replaced Justice Baqir Ali Rana with no change in the lackadaisical approach to the trial. Thus, the 26/11 trial case moved to ATC-I in Adiala Prison. Two reasons were cited by various Pakistani reports for Baqir Ali Rana's request; threats from Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) and 'pressure' from the Government of Pakistan. The Indian Home Minister, P.Chidambaram, interpreted this change of Judge as a further proof of the unwillingness of the Pakistani Government to pursue the 26/11 case in earnest.

The new judge warned the accused that he would 'begin recording the testimony of witnesses at the next hearing regardless of their decision not to accept the chargesheet'. It is worth recalling that 15 months after this brave statement and 24 months after the case was registered on February 15, 2009, just the testimony of one witness has so far been recorded. This prompted the defence lawyers to file a case in the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court challenging the proces of framing the chargesheet itself in their absence (as we saw in Part III). Thus, this whole thing, of the earlier judge 'framing charges' after asking the lawyers to rush home because of the attack while the judge himself calmly continued with 'framing charges' and then the judge requesting to be relieved of the case, a new judge replacing him, defence lawyers appealing to the High Court on the inadmissibility of charge-sheet etc. etc. are all great games being played to delay the case and leave technical loopholes in the proceedings of the court so that the verdict can be easily struck down later on citing these. In its order, the Rawalpindi-bench of the Lahore High Court directed the ATC-I to 'take into account the views of the accused and to redress their grievances before proceeding with their indictment.' The case was therefore back to Square One as the charges framed by the previous judge were thus rejected and the process had to be gone through afresh ! Based on this advice, the lawyers for the seven accused moved the ATC-I court On November 7, 2009 for copies of the chargesheet and attested copies of Kasab's confession. The judge adjourned further hearing by a week and the next week, the judge was absent and the case was delayed by another week until November 16. Another excuse was found on November 16th to postpone the trial, this time it was the upcoming Punjab Bar elections. So, the trial was postponed to November 23rd. It was most optimistically expected by some that the charges would be framed on that day. The defence lawyers also indicated, for the first time, their intention to bring Kasab to Pakistan to stand trial and examination. This, it was apparent, would not simply delay but derail the whole judicial process and that is what has happened.

Meanwhile, in India, the trial of Kasab, Ansari and Sahabuddin, which started in April came to an end in November. The trial included examining over 250 witnesses, 30 identification parades by eyewitnesses, DNA tests to prove that DNA samples in the articles recovered from the hijacked motor vessel M.V. Kuber matched Kasab's and the other nine slain terrorists, other forensic and ballistic tests, examination of CCTV footages from several places (CST, Times of India, Hotel Taj, Hotel Oberoi-Trident etc.) What was Pakistan doing at the same time ? First it denied for a long time that Pakistanis were at all involved, then when their own Pakistani journalists uncovered the truth about Kasab they were jailed (Rab Nawaz Joya and Javed Kanwal Chandor), and then it has been conducting since then a mockery of court trials as we are chronicling.

Around this time, the Italian Police cracked the money-transfer trail for the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology used by the LeT handlers sitting in Pakistan to communicate with and direct the operations of the terrorists in Mumbai minute-by-minute. Once again, Pakistan arrested a low-level operative (Barcelona-resident Javed Iqbal) though Indian investigators believe that money was transferred at the behest of Zarar Shah. Though a Sheikhupura-resident by name Abdul Wajid has been jailed claiming that he was indeed Zarar Shah, we have to doubt the veracity of this because Pakistan has been stonewalling giving voice-samples that would establish if he was indeed the one who spoke on intercepted phone calls (284 calls running into 995 minutes). Pakistan has also denied access to the American FBI agents to interrogate the so-called Zarar Shah. They have even refused to give a photograph of the alleged Zarar Shah in their custody to Indian investigators. Such stonewalling by Pakistani authorities only raise suspicion because Pakistan has forever been surviving on the staple diet of fraudulent behaviour.

On November 23, when charges were expected to be framed, the Judge reserved his judgement and adjourned the case to November 25. By this time, it was clear that the case was being heard every week but absolutely no progress was being made. The Pakistanis wanted to present the appearance of running while standing at the same place. Finally, it was on November 25, 2009, just a day prior to the first anniversary of the 26/11 carnage, that the seven terrorists were indicted and declared 16 others (except Ajmal Kasab because his whereabouts were known) as 'proclaimed offenders'. The accused pleaded 'not guilty' as their lawyers explained later that the charges were not backed up by evidence !! But, just what were the charges ? The lawyers refused to divulge the details citing the gag-order of the court. It can only be surmised that the following are the charges: Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, LeT operations commander and the “mastermind” of the attacks; Abdul Wajid alias Zarar Shah, a “facilitator and expert of computer networks”; Hamad Amin Sadiq, who is charged with “facilitating funds and hideouts” for the Mumbai attackers; Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu al Qama, described as a “handler”; Shahid Jamil Riaz, who is described both as a facilitator for funds, as well as a crew member of a boat used by the attackers; Jamil Ahmed, described as a “facilitator”; and, Younus, also a “facilitator”. They were also charged with setting up militant training camps in Yousaf Goth, Karachi and Mirpur Sakroo in Sindh to train the Mumbai attackers under the operational command of Mr Lakhvi. The BBC reported on December 4 that the charges also included 'disrupting civil life in both India and Pakistan' and 'trade between the two countries'.

The charges were framed against the seven under the Anti-Terrorism Act, several sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), including Section 302 for murder and under the Explosives Act. From the dossier that Pakistan had given to India, one understands that Bahawalpur-based Shahidi Jamil Riaz and Rahim Yar Khan resident Hammad Amin Sadiq have been charged, according to an official Pakistani dossier, with “planning, preparing, financing, arranging boats, logistics, training, facilitating and launching LeT terrorist attacks from Karachi.” However, Pakistani investigations (conducted by the Federal Investigation Agency, FIA) have not dared to go beyond these people and unravel the entire terror plot.

The defence lawyers immediately decided to challenge the indictment in the Lahore High Court. They also challenged the admissibilility of separating the trial of Kasab from that of the others. However, the Rawalpindi bench of LHC rejected both counts and said that any such question could be raised in ATC-I itself during the trial.

(To Be Continued . . .)

1 comment: