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Ajmal’s confession may revive extradition demand

Nirupama Subramanian

If his statement is used as evidence by Pakistan prosecution, he will have to be cross-examined

Pakistan Foreign Office says it is too premature to comment on confession

The first thing is to check whether it was voluntary or made under duress: defence lawyer

ISLAMABAD: The confession by Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab’ before a court hearing the Mumbai terror strikes case may rekindle demands in Pakistan for his extradition if the statement is included by Pakistani prosecution as evidence against the five suspects who face proceedings here for their alleged involvement in the attacks.

Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said on Tuesday it was “too premature” to say anything about Ajmal’s confession.

“We have only read media reports about it, we haven’t heard anything about this officially,” Mr. Basit told The Hindu.

But a lawyer for Hammad Amin Sadiq, one of the five men in Pakistani custody for allegedly planning and facilitating the attack, said he would want to cross-examine Ajmal if the statement was presented as evidence against his client by the prosecution.

“If he has given any statement against my client, I would like to check the veracity of the statement, and in order to do that,” said Shahbaz Rajput, “he has to be produced before the court here for cross-examination.”

At the last hearing on July 18, Mr. Rajput submitted his power of attorney for Hammad Sadiq to the anti-terror court where the proceedings are being held. He is the only defence lawyer thus far.

The hearings, being held in the high security Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, are still in the pre-trial stage. The Federal Investigation Agency, which probed the role of Pakistanis in the Mumbai attack, has submitted a charge sheet against the five. The court has yet to frame charges against them.

“‘Kasab’ is a Pakistani and as such he is in the custody of the authorities in an enemy state. The first thing is to check whether it was a voluntary statement or whether it was made under duress. That will determine how credible it is. So he will need to be cross-examined at any cost and for that he will have to be brought to the court here,” Mr. Rajput said.

According to Mr. Rajput, Ajmal’s statement would have relevance to the Mumbai attacks case in Pakistan only if he were to repeat it in court here.

Independent legal experts also countered the suggestion that Ajmal’s confession would automatically strengthen the case of the Pakistani prosecution when the trial of the five men begins.

In his statement on Monday to judge M. L. Tahaliyani, the 21-year-old Ajmal, who detailed his killing spree in Mumbai along with his partner-in-terror Abu Ismail, also named Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi among his handlers back in Pakistan.

Lakhvi is one of the five men in Pakistani custody and is described by the FIA in its charge sheet as a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and “mastermind” of the attacks.

“If I were Lakhvi’s lawyer, I would first want to cross-examine the guy who made the statement against him,” said Ahmed Bilal Soofi, a Supreme Court advocate. “There is no way that any lawyer will allow a confession of this kind against his client to go uncontested.”

That would mean demands by defence lawyers, Mr. Soofi said, that Ajmal be extradited and produced in court here.

“Pakistan may demand to see [Ajmal’s confessional] statement and India will probably send it. But there are limits to dossier diplomacy, and while the exchange of these dossiers is good for political symbolism, their legal value is not much, particularly if you have a case to prove in court,” he said.

The Foreign Office spokesman said he had no idea whether the Pakistani prosecution planned to make Ajmal’s statement part of the evidence to present in court here, and therefore could not predict if the demand for his extradition by defence lawyers for Lakhvi or anyone else named in the statement would arise.

“We have been saying in the past that it would be great if ‘Kasab’ could be extradited so that the Pakistani authorities can talk to him, but the Indian government was not amenable, so that’s where things stand,” Mr. Basit said.

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