MUMBAI: The trial of the only surviving gunman in the bloody Mumbai siege began Friday with the prosecutor calling the attacks ‘a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan to attack India,’ AP reported.
Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam said at least one Pakistani military officer was involved in the attack and its sophistication suggested the involvement of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency.
Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani, is charged with 12 criminal counts, including murder and waging war against India. Prosecutors say Kasab and nine other gunmen who were killed during the siege are responsible for the deaths of 166 people and injuring 304 more.
‘There was a criminal conspiracy hatched in Pakistan to attack India,’ Nikam said, with the ‘ultimate target of capturing Jammu and Kashmir, which is part and parcel of India.’
The Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistani but claimed by both, has long been at the center of the bitterness between the two South Asian rivals.
The prosecutor vowed to get to ‘the root of terror’ and said the identity of all those involved would be revealed through the ongoing investigation.
Nikam alleged the November attacks were masterminded by the Muslim militant group Lashkar-i-Taiba with the help of at least one Pakistani military officer. He said the plot was made possible by a ‘terrorist culture’ that had taken root in Pakistan.
Lashkar-i-Taiba is widely believed to have been created by Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 1980s to fight Indian rule in Kashmir.
Pakistani officials have acknowledged that the November attacks were partly plotted on their soil and announced criminal proceedings against eight suspects. They have also acknowledged that Kasab is Pakistani but have repeatedly denied their intelligence agencies were involved in the attack.
The prosecution began after the judge dismissed a motion from Kasab’s defense lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, to move the trial to a juvenile court. Kazmi, who had been appointed Kasab’s attorney just the day before, said his client was 16 years old — and legally a minor — at the time of the attack.
Kasab told Indian investigators he was born in September 1987, which would have made him 21 when the siege took place.
Kasab’s two co-defendants, Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed, are Indian nationals charged with helping plot the attacks. Their lawyer maintains that they are innocent.
Meanwhile, Kasab’s defence counsel said his client wished to retract his confession, claiming it was obtained under duress.
‘On his instruction, a retraction application has been filed, retracting the so-called alleged confession,’ said Abbas Kazmi.
‘He’s going to plead not guilty,’ he added.
The lawyer told reporters that Kasab claimed the confession, made to a local magistrate while he was in police custody, was ‘extracted out of coercion and force and it was not a voluntary confession.’ He quoted Kasab as claiming he had been ‘physically tortured.’
Court officials say they hope the case will be finished in six months to a year — which would be extremely fast by the standards of major Indian trials.
The trial for India’s deadliest terror attack, the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people, took 14 years to complete.
LONDON, April 17: One of the Pakistani students arrested in last week’s anti-terrorism raids, Janas Khan, has sought Pakistan High Commission’s consular service.
Meanwhile, the high commission has also obtained the names of four solicitors who are representing seven of the arrested students who have refused the offer of consular services. The commission is trying to contact the students through their solicitors.
Sources in the high commission said that the remaining two Pakistani students had refused consular services and have also requested authorities not to involve their families in the matter.All 12 persons were arrested on April 8 on suspicion of being involved in hatching plots to stage terrorist acts in the UK.
One, whose identity is yet to be established but believed to be a Bangladeshi, was released on the very second day, and of the remaining 11 still in custody, one is said to be Afghan national.
The UK authorities have so far not shared with Pakistani authorities even preliminary information about the students like their names, home addresses and the names of the institutions where these students were studying and the subjects they were studying; when they arrived in the UK and when do their visas expire.
Ignoring Pakistan’s request to either put those arrested on trial, or to allow them to remain in the country to continue their studies, the UK authorities are said to have decided to let the police continue their investigation.
There has also been talk of deporting some of the arrested students against whom actionable evidence is not likely to be found.
Under the law, police could keep the suspects in custody for 28 days. So, police has 18 days more to marshal the required evidence to charge them.
Sighatullah Kadri, QC, a British lawyer of Pakistani origin, answered in the affirmative when asked if the UK authorities could deport the students even if the charges under which they were arrested were not found valid.
He said perhaps the police had arrested these students only on the basis of taped ‘incriminating’ conversation, but since taped conversation is not admissible in the court of law and also the MI5 itself would not like to use this evidence in the court fearing exposing its methods of investigations, the police is finding itself in a fix. “They do not want to let the suspects go scot-free because of what evidence they have but they cannot also keep them under detention beyond 28 days without coming up with actionable evidence.”
WASHINGTON, April 17: President Barack Obama on Thursday blew the lid on harsh CIA terror interrogations approved by ex-president George W. Bush, including the use of insects, simulated drowning, and sleep deprivation.
But despite releasing four partially blacked-out memos detailing the tactics, Mr Obama said operatives who carried out the interrogations would not be prosecuted, saying they acted on orders and were defending their country.
The memos offered a stunning glimpse inside the covert interrogation programme introduced after the September 11 attacks in 2001, which critics say equated to torture, and Mr Obama said undermined America’s moral authority.
The memos were written by the then Bush administration’s legal officials and made the case that a long list of coercive techniques did not equal torture as they did not amount to the infliction of severe mental or physical pain.
Detailing methods used to question Al Qaeda terror suspects, the memos reveal the use of dietary manipulation, forced nudity, facial and abdominal slaps, and the use of confined or “stress positions” for suspects.
In one technique known as “walling,” interrogators could push a suspect against a false wall, so his shoulder blades hit the wall with a loud noise, to make him think the impact is greater than in reality.
The memos also show interrogators asked for a ruling on whether the placing of a harmless insect in a cramped box with Al Qaeda terror suspect Abu Zubaida equated to torture.
The technique “certainly does not cause physical pain” and therefore could not be termed as torture and should be permissible, one of the memos said.
Similarly, techniques included waterboarding or simulated drowning, walling and sleep deprivation also fell short of torture, the memos said.
Another memo details a ‘prototypical interrogation,’ which begins with a detainee stripped of his clothes, shackled, and hooded, “with the walling collar over his head and around his neck.”
“The interrogators remove the hood and explain that the detainee can improve his situation by cooperating and may say that the interrogators will do what it takes to get important information,” the document said.
“As soon as the detainee does anything inconsistent with the interrogators’
instructions, the interrogators use an insult slap or abdominal slap.
“They employ walling if it becomes clear that the detainee is not cooperating in the interrogation.”
In a statement, Mr Obama said the tactics adopted by the administration of his predecessor George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks in 2001 “undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer.”
He said he was releasing the documents to avoid “an inaccurate accounting of the past,” which would “fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.”
Mr Obama stressed that the interrogators would not be prosecuted for their work.“In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution,” he said.
“The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world,” he said. “We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.”
Attorney-General Eric Holder, meanwhile, said that the government would provide legal representation to any CIA employee involved in the interrogations in any state or federal court case brought against them.
The memos were authored by Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury, who at the time were lawyers for Mr Bush’s Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that intense debate was under way within the new administration over whether to release the memos.
The report said Attorney-General Holder and others in the Justice Department had argued aggressively in favour of release, but the CIA countered that disclosure of such secrets would undermine its credibility and effectiveness.
The day after taking office, Mr Obama ordered the closing of the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay within a year and the immediate cessation of the special interrogation regime used by the CIA.—AFP
SANYA (China), April 17: President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao agreed on Friday to jointly fight terrorism and resolved to strengthen bilateral ties in economic, defence and energy sectors.
President Zardari met the Chinese leader after he arrived here from Tokyo to attend the annual Boao Forum.
Premier Wen Jiabao said China would help Pakistan safeguard its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
President Zardari and Premier Wen Jiabao discussed a range of strategic and economic matters.
President Zardari said Pakistan and China enjoyed a high degree of mutual trust, understanding and convergence of views on bilateral, regional and international issues and called for translating the deep strategic partnership into a robust trade and investment relationship.
During his three-day stay, President Zardari will deliver a keynote speech at the plenary session of the BFA on ‘Asia: managing beyond crisis’ and hold meetings with several leaders.
Premier Wen said it was high time to address the global economic crisis and find a way to counter its impact on developing economies.—APP
WASHINGTON, April 17: The United States said on Friday that although it had made a generous aid pledge to Pakistan in Tokyo, relations between the two countries did suffer from a trust deficit.
“There’s no question that there are issues of trust”, between the US and Pakistan, State Department spokesman Robert Wood told a briefing in Washington. “We’re working hard to try to resolve them. And there’s a commitment on both sides to try to deal with that question.”
Earlier on Friday, the State Department issued a statement saying that the $1 billion pledged in Tokyo were “a down payment” on a $1.5 billion annual aid package already introduced in the US Congress.
The pledge made in Tokyo is also “subject to Congressional approval”, the State Department said.
Asked if the Tokyo conference provided an opportunity to repair the trust deficit between the two countries, Mr Wood said the US would continue to work with Pakistan to resolve the issues of trust.
“I’m not going to say that the issue of trust is going to be resolved overnight. It’s not. But it takes action on the part of both governments to try to deal fairly and squarely with a lot of these issues that confront us,” he said.
“And so it’s something we’ll continue to work on. But indeed, there is that issue of trust,” he added.
Mr Wood said that the stakes were “very high” and the US needed to work with Pakistan on trying to prevent the Taliban from wreaking more havoc, on not only Pakistan but Afghanistan in particular.
“Our goals, obviously, are to do what we can to support the government of Pakistan and its efforts to try to bring about, you know, economic development and further democracy in the country,” the spokesman said.
The United States, he said, also wanted to ensure that most of the money given to Pakistan went to its people.
“It’s something that the president and the secretary want to make sure happens. And we’re going to continue to work that,” he said.
ISLAMABAD, April 17: As the country awaits a parliamentary constitutional reforms committee, a veteran lawmaker of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party pleaded in the National Assembly on Friday for having only a titular president who should also not head a political party.
Presidential powers are a key issue that must be resolved through constitutional amendments to be proposed by an all-parties committee of parliament, and the call by Syed Zafar Ali Shah came as the first public expression of the kind that appeared a taboo in recent months after President Asif Ali Zardari was elected to the office with all the powers assumed by his military predecessor General Pervez Musharraf while also leading the ruling party as its co-chairman.
“The prime minister should be prime minister (with powers) and the president be a titular head of state as is in India,” the PPP member from Sindh said while speaking in a debate on President Zardari’s March 28 address to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate.
He said although there was no express ban in the Constitution, the spirit of the Constitution’s article 41, which says the president “shall be the head of state and shall represent the unity of the republic”, was that a president should not head a party.
National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza is yet to name the all-parties committee she was authorised by the house on April 10 to form to propose amendments to the Constitution and other laws to implement the famous Charter of Democracy signed in 2006 by assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League-N leader Nawaz Sharif and later supported by most political parties in parliament.
The charter calls for a return to a titular presidency by clipping its arbitrarily assumed powers to dissolve the National Assembly and appoint armed forces’ chiefs, provincial governors and the chief election commissioner and give them back to the prime minister as was the position in the Constitution before General Musharraf seized power in an Oct 12, 1999, coup.
Friday’s poorly attended National Assembly sitting saw some members expressing their reservations about the early outcome of the enforcement of a controversial Sharia regulation in Malakand division, although all parties, except the boycotting Muttahida Quami Movement had, voted for an April 13 resolution that asked the president to approve the order to implement a peace deal with the militants of Swat.
Former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, speaking on a point of order, said that even after the peace deal, Swat militants seemed to be involved in a suicide bomb attack in his constituency in Charsadda on Wednesday that killed 16 people because an injured alleged bomber had been traced to Swat district’s Charbagh area.
He asked the government to seek an explanation from Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi chief Sufi Mohammad who made the deal with the government on behalf of the militants.“On the one hand there is peace agreement and on the other there this process (of violence) begun again,” he said about the deal, which has been supported by most political parties but is seen by many in the civil society as an acquiescence to the power of the gun that would embolden the militants.
Before that, PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah opposed the peace deal’s provision for a gradual withdrawal of troops from Swat and said that even if peace was restored there, “we expect the army to play its role”.
ANP member Syed Haider Ali Shah, whose party leads the NWFP coalition government that made the peace deal with the militants, regretted MQM’s opposition to the move which, he said, was necessary to restore peace in the province that had been “in a state of war” for 30 years after it became the base for a Western-backed guerrilla war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Independent member from Balochistan Mohammad Usman was most critical of the government’s handling of the situation in his troubled province, particularly vis-à-vis the issue of “missing persons” allegedly picked up by intelligence agencies and the recent murder of three Baloch nationalist politicians after they were abducted from the office of a lawyer in Turbat.
“Don’t push the Baloch like Bengalis,” he warned the government and called for halting what he called continuing military operation in Balochistan, registering a first information report for the murder of three Baloch leaders, starting dialogue with “the real political forces” of the province and recognising the Baloch people’s right over their natural resources.
PPP chief-whip and Labour and Manpower Minister Khurshid Ahmed Shah assured the house that the federal government would seek a report from the PPP-led Balochistan provincial government about people who went missing during years of the previous military-led Musharraf government.
The house was later adjourned until 4pm on Monday.
KOHAT, April 17: A video footage sent by some unidentified people to Dawn on Friday shows Taliban firing squad killing a man and a woman after accusing them of having committed adultery.
The two, who appeared to be in their 40s, were gunned down in the presence of their relatives.
According to sources the incident took place in Hangu district a few days ago. In the video, the woman is heard appealing to the Taliban for mercy. “Have mercy on me, please have mercy, the charges against me are false and no man has ever touched me.”
Taliban first pump bullets into woman’s chest and then fire a burst from Kalashnikovs at her and the man. As the woman appeared to be breathing, some Taliban are heard shouting, “she is alive, kill her”. —Abdul Sami Paracha
ISLAMABAD, April 17: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani supported on Friday a demand for urgent steps to resolve the Balochistan issue politically.
“A situation has been created in the province to destabilise Pakistan in what appears to be a conspiracy to seize and destroy the nation’s assets,” he said while participating in a debate triggered by a number of motions moved by all parliamentary groups on the issue, including an adjournment motion seeking on the recent killing of three Baloch nationalist leaders.
The chair clubbed together all the motions containing various demands and suggestions for resolving the issue.
Acting Chairman Jan Mohammad Jamali said the matter was very important and needed extensive deliberations.
Some lawmakers said they saw an international conspiracy behind the present law and order situation in Balochistan and called for “complete autonomy” for the province.
They rejected a committee headed by the Balochistan IG to investigate the murder of the Baloch politicians and demanded a commission under a Supreme Court judge to look into the circumstances leading to the crime and fix responsibility.
The prime minister said that discussion in parliament would help guide the government. He said he would soon call a meeting of the defence committee to discuss ways of improving the situation in the province. Guidance would also be sought from the committee on national security, he added.
Dr Abdul Malik of the Balochistan National Party said the situation had turned so serious that Baloch youths were openly talking of “secession from Pakistan
He criticised Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Rehman Malik for blaming India for the security situation and asked what the 700,000 army troops were doing to protect Pakistans territory.
Shahid Bugti of the Jamhuri Watan Party condemned the killing of the three Baloch politicians when the people of Balochistan had not yet recovered from the grief of the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti and Balaach Marri. He said that Gen (retd) Musharraf who was responsible for the catastrophe in the province was being protected and provided protocol.
He said the Baloch youths were raising “slogans of separation” and warned that the country would ‘disintegrate’ if the issue was not resolved at the earliest. He added parliament was the only forum to debate all important national issues and suggest solutions.
BEIJING: Four US experts monitoring the shutdown of a North Korean nuclear plant were expelled Friday from the isolated nation, Chinese media reported, days after they were told to leave.
The four departed Pyongyang’s Sunan airport for Beijing “under the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) expulsion order,” Xinhua news agency said.
North Korea on Tuesday pulled out of nuclear disarmament talks and ordered US and UN nuclear inspectors out of the country after the United Nations Security Council condemned Pyongyang for an April 5 rocket launch.
The UN nuclear inspectors left North Korea on Thursday.
The US Embassy in Beijing said it was unaware of the departure of the American nuclear experts and declined immediate comment.
The hardline communist state also announced plans to restart production of weapons-grade plutonium at its Yongbyon plant that had been shut down under an agreement reached at the disarmament talks.
The Yongbyon complex produced enough plutonium for a 2006 nuclear test and for several other bombs until it was closed in 2007 under a six-nation deal brokered with China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
North Korea has previously threatened to quit the six-party talks, which began in 2003 and several times came close to collapse.
But its Tuesday statement announced it would “never” take part in such discussions again and was no longer bound by any six-party agreements.
Pyongyang appears to be pushing instead for bilateral talks with the United States, analysts say.
“We hope that the United States and North Korea will improve their relationship and develop it,” Japan’s Nikkei economic daily quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi as saying in an interview in Beijing on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the United States said that a committee under the UN Security Council was meeting on expanding sanctions against North Korea that were put in place after Pyongyang’s first-ever atomic bomb test in 2006.