Mumbai trial: India's global stage for case against Pakistan

The judge Thursday accepted Kasab's confession. The trial will still continue, with the prosecution saying it will 'expose' the Pakistani group tied to the assault.

By , Staff writer

The trial must go on.

That's the ruling Thursday from the special court hearing the Mumbai terror attack case following a dramatic courtroom confession earlier this week from the defendant, the sole surviving suspect.

The bench sided with prosecutors who wanted to continue laying out their full case against Pakistani gunman Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, despite his change of plea on Monday to guilty.

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Specifically, the special prosecutor said he wanted to "expose the infrastructure and operations" of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based militant group fingered in the attack.

Addressing Mr. Kasab, Judge M.L. Tahilyani explained: "There were 85 charges framed against you. You have not pleaded guilty to all of them and only to the basic offense."

The decision gives prosecutors a chance effectively to put LeT – and by extension Pakistan – on trial. While Indian officials have railed for years against the terror group and its ties to the Pakistani state, the trial affords India a hefty, high-profile venue for making its case to the world.

"This trial was not just about Kasab as an individual [but] the manner in which Kasab's trial leads to the linkages within Pakistan," says Uday Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation and a security analyst based in New Delhi. "This is a very important trial to really make the case that India has been trying to make for years that the Pakistani state has supported terror and used it as a strategic option."

Trial gets international spotlight

The case is being followed intensely in India, with each dramatic twist headlining newspapers here. But it's also an international relations showpiece.

While Pakistan's links to terror groups have long been discussed in foreign capitals, the trial opens the topic to a wider public.

"If this becomes more and more irrefutable, the US – any democracy – will have to respond to some part of public opinion, especially when your own interests are involved," says Mr. Bhaskar, who notes that six Americans were killed in the attacks.

Just as the style of the attack – dubbed "India's 9/11" – maximized global TV coverage, the courtroom turnabouts are keeping the trial visible.

Adding to Thursday's drama, the frustrated defense lawyer, Abbas Kazmi, said he wanted to withdraw from the case because his client had no faith in him.

That would delay the trial again since members of the Mumbai bar have refused to defend Kasab and other lawyers have been threatened not to. Kasab's previous lawyer was sacked in April over a conflict of interest.

Following his client's surprise confession, Mr. Kazmi argued that the court should move directly to sentencing if it was going to accept the new guilty plea. Otherwise, he said, the plea should be rejected and the statement kept off the record. The court, however, accepted the plea and the statement as evidence.

Pressing Pakistan for admissions

India's investigation and prosecution of Kasab have already forced Pakistan to repeatedly revise its statements about the event. Initially, authorities there wouldn't admit Kasab was Pakistani. Now the country concurs that LeT was behind the attacks, but denies any state involvement.

LeT, however, has been supported by Pakistan as a proxy force to fight India in the contested territory of Kashmir. After 9/11, Pakistan said it severed all ties.

Prosecutors may feel they have a chance with this case – particularly with yet-unheard information from a team of international experts – to show ongoing state support for LeT and terrorism aimed at India.

"Can the prosecution make this linkage between Kasab and LeT?" asks Bhaskar. "My answer is yes, if they are given enough time, and if the US decides to share its information."

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