NEW DELHI:India will soon ask Pakistan to send 13 witnesses to depose before a special National Investigation Agency court conducting the trial of the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast that killed 68 people, a top government official told The Hindu.
In March, Pakistan had asked India to send 24 witnesses to depose before an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack trial.
Based on a request from the NIA, a Haryana court will send summons to 13 key Pakistani witnesses in the train blast case, in which Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Swami Aseemanand is a key accused.
200 already examined
The official said the trial had entered its last phase and more than 200 witnesses had been examined. The Pakistani witnesses include the ones injured in the blast and relatives of those killed.
He added that the government was looking at two options. The first would be to record the statement of the witnesses at the Special NIA court in Panchkula, where the case is being heard. The second would be to create a makeshift court at the Wagah-Attari border.
“We have to factor in the security of the witnesses also. Instead of making them travel to Panchkula via Delhi, we are looking at making arrangements at the India-Pakistan border for their convenience,” said the official.
The official said permission will have to be sought from the Punjab and Haryana High Court to set up the makeshift court.
“There are 299 witnesses in the case and 212 have been examined so far. There are 14 who have turned hostile. As the trial enters its last leg, it is imperative for the Pakistani witnesses to come and depose here, this will help the prosecution’s case,” said the official.
Aseemanand has already been granted bail in Samjhauta case but remains in judicial custody due to involvement in other blast cases.
The National Investigation Agency did not challenge his bail petition.
In April this year, NIA Director-General Sharad Kumar, while in the U.S. requested the authorities there to provide information about the role of Arif Qasmani, a key Lashkar financier, in the Samjhauta case, an indication that the government may be looking to shift the focus from leaders affiliated to extremist Hindu groups towards the Pakistan-based terror outfit.
Pakistan has raised Samjhauta blast at diplomatic levels and has blamed India for going soft against the accused.