As Indian and Pakistani officers met at the National Investigation Agency (NIA) headquarters to take stock of the probe into the Pathankot attack, a political storm erupted Monday with the opposition parties slamming the government for giving the Pakistani team, which includes an ISI officer, “unfettered access” to the airbase. The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is scheduled to visit Pathankot Tuesday.
Headed by Muhammad Tahir Rai, chief of Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), it includes Mohammad Azim Arshad, Lahore’s Deputy Director General, Intelligence Bureau, Lt Col Tanvir Ahmed of ISI, Lt Col Irfan Mirza of Military Intelligence and Shahid Tanveer, Investigating Officer of Gujranwala CTD.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Defexpo in Quepem in Goa, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar denied that his ministry had cleared the Pakistan team’s visit to Pathankot. He said the “crime scene” was under NIA control and it was for the agency to decide who to allow there.
He said the “crime scene” was a “non-sensitive” area and had been completely barricaded, including visually. No defence asset, he said, would be used to facilitate the visit of the Pakistani team.
“An area where the actual crime took place had been handed over to NIA long back… who will be taken there, who will probe, depends on the decision of the NIA,” Parrikar said.
— Mayura Janwalkar (@mayura) March 28, 2016
But leading the opposition charge, the Congress questioned the “unfettered access” given to the Pakistani team and the “red carpet welcome” accorded to it.
“By allowing an official Pakistani team to visit and investigate, the BJP government has, for the first time, distinguished and, therefore, recognised that the Pakistani establishment does not have any role in perpetuating terror in India, more so in the context of the Pathankot terror attack,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said.
He questioned the presence of an ISI officer in the Pakistani team. “What is the guarantee that the state actors, who are represented by the Pakistani investigation team in India, will not frame the investigation in favour of non-state actors and make our position untenable? Pakistan has not provided a letter rogatory for the visit of its team,” he said.
In the Delhi assembly, minutes after the presentation of the budget, AAP legislators protested the arrival of the Pakistani team. MLAs including minister Kapil Sharma, Nitin Tyagi, Alka Lamba and Rakhi Birla shouted ‘Pakistan go back’ slogans and held aloft banners and the Tricolour.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal targeted the Prime Minister: “We have repeatedly said that Pakistan has been behind terror attacks like 26/11 or bomb blasts in Delhi. What is wrong with the Indian government? For 30 years, India has taken this position. India is just a theatre. The masterminds and actual players are in Pakistan… Officers of the IB, CBI and RAW should have gone to Pakistan instead of their officers coming to India. Hafiz Saeed is not in India, (Syed) Salahuddin is not in India… why is the government on its knees?”
Later, Kejriwal also tweeted: “ISI ko bulakar Modi sarkar ne Pak he aage ghutne teke. Modi sarkar ne shaheedon ki shahadat ki saudebaazi ki hai. Bharat ke log yeh katai bardasht nahi karenge (By calling the ISI, the Modi government has gone down on its knees. The Modi government has traded the sacrifices made by martyrs. People of India will not tolerate this).”
Away from the din, at the NIA headquarters, the Pakistani team was given a presentation on the probe so far. After the meeting, NIA Inspector General Sanjeev Kumar Singh said: “A five-member JIT of Pakistan arrived today at NIA headquarters for a meeting/interaction with the investigating team of the Pathankot attack case. They met the DG, NIA, and other officers associated with the investigation. During the interaction, NIA officers gave a detailed presentation on the evidence collected during the course of investigation.”
He said the JIT and NIA teams are interacting under “extant legal procedures” of India and Pakistan. “The JIT will be taken to different locations associated with the Pathankot attack case on March 29. The exercise is aimed at providing evidence to Pakistan JIT so that all those guilty of the Pathankot attack can be prosecuted effectively in Pakistan. Discussions will continue with Pakistan’s JIT,” he said.
India plans to provide the Pakistani team access to all witnesses in the case, but not to personnel from the NSG or BSF. The witnesses include Punjab Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, cook Madan Gopal and 17 injured people.
Sources said that cooperation to the Pakistani team would be based on the principle of reciprocity, hoping that an Indian team would be allowed to travel to Pakistan at a later date.