There is no question of India agreeing to Pakistan's demand for custody of Ajmal Amir Kasab for testifying against the seven Lashkar-e-Taiba men being tried in a Rawalpindi court for involvement in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Of the 10 men who carried out the three-day attack, Kasab was the only one captured alive. His “admission of guilt” statement to the Mumbai court that tried him has provided many details of the LeT involvement in the attack, even though he later denied all of it. The court will pronounce its verdict on May 3. Given the legal position and also the known links between the LeT and Pakistan intelligence agencies, there is no question of India acceding to Pakistan's demand. While Islamabad did take some unprecedented steps in the wake of the Mumbai attacks leading to the indictment and the ongoing trial, it has subsequently failed to show sincerity in dealing with the LeT and other anti-India militant groups. Instead, the government has given a long leash to the Jamat-ud-dawa, the charity front of LeT, and its leader Hafiz Saeed.
Even if we assume that the custody demand is not a ploy by Pakistan to shift the blame on New Delhi for its inaction against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, and is born of a legal tight corner for the prosecution in the Rawalpindi court, there are ways of getting around it. The demand for Kasab can be traced back to a defence argument that his confessional statement was not admissible in a Pakistan court. In response, the prosecution sought to make him a party to the Pakistani trial — asking the court to declare him a fugitive and declaring its intention of seeking an Interpol “red corner” notice for him. In addition to Kasab's custody, Pakistan has asked for the magistrates and police officials who recorded Kasab's statements to testify before the Rawalpindi court. Since the Pakistani authorities have repeatedly said that their own investigation has yielded sufficient evidence to obtain convictions against the seven accused, this legal tangle over Kasab, if that is what it is, should not have arisen. But if the case needs strengthening, both sides should be able to agree that as provided by the law, the magistrates who took down Kasab's statements can provide the required testimony — in writing, as the law allows, rather than in person. The Law Ministries on both sides should be able to handle the required procedures. The demand for Kasab must not be allowed to become a new source of hostile rhetoric between the two countries.