A five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Pakistan, comprising intelligence and police officials, reached New Delhi on Sunday to carry out its own investigation into the Pathankot airbase attack.
The team arrived on a special flight from Pakistan and was received by NIA officers and officials from the Pakistan High Commission. The JIT will have formal meetings with NIA officers at the agency’s headquarters in the Capital on Monday, and will be escorted to the Pathankot airbase on Tuesday. An NIA official said the team would be asked to take the bodies of four terrorists, kept at Pathankot civil hospital, to Pakistan for burial.
Led by Punjab counter-terrorism department’s Additional Inspector-General Muhammad Tahir Rai, the members of the JIT include Deputy Director-General, Lahore, of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau Mohammed Azim Arshad and military intelligence officer Lieutenant-Colonel Irfan Mirza. Lieutenant-Colonel Tanvir Ahmad, who is serving with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will become the first officer in the Pakistani covert service to visit an Indian military facility with official permission.
On Monday morning, the JIT will reach the NIA headquarters, where they will be given a 90-minute presentation by NIA officers about the investigation carried out into the Pathankot attack and on the evidence gathered so far. In the post-lunch session, the members of the JIT are expected to seek clarifications from the Indian investigators on any doubts they may have.
On Tuesday, the JIT will be taken to Pathankot in a BSF aircraft, but they will not land inside the airbase. The Pakistani officials will only be taken to the “limited area relevant to the investigation”, sources said, adding that the airbase has been “visually barricaded”. The NIA will take them around where it deems fit, sources said. This includes the spot where the terrorists are suspected to have entered the base, as well as the place where the gunbattle took place, an NIA official said.
The official said the JIT would land in Pathankot in a special aircraft between 10.00 am to 11.00 am Tuesday and would spend the day there before flying back to Delhi in the evening. “If they wish, we will also take them to the point where terrorists entered India from Pakistan,” the official
The team would also be taken to the site where Indian taxi driver Ikagar Singh was murdered by terrorists as well as the spot where they waylaid the vehicle of Punjab SP Salwinder Singh.
The official said the JIT could be allowed to question witnesses including Salwinder, his cook Madan Gopal and jeweller friend Rajesh Verma, who were in the SP’s car when it was waylaid.
“We would like the visiting team from Pakistan to have a look at the bodies of four terrorists lying in the mortuary at Pathankot civil hospital and would want them to take the bodies with them back to Pakistan for burial,” a top NIA official said.
The bodies of the four terrorists have been preserved at the Pathankot hospital mortuary for more than two months. Ahead of the Pakistani team’s visit, citing capacity issues, the Punjab health department had written to the Punjab police to shift the bodies from Pathankot. But according to senior medical officer Dr Bhupinder Singh, an NIA official recently visited the hospital to say that the bodies needed to be kept at Pathankot hospital for longer in the wake of the ongoing investigations.
A Punjab police officer, meanwhile, said, “We have not been informed about the team’s visit. We asked once so we could prepare, but we were not given any information.”
On Wednesday, the JIT will have another round of meetings with NIA officers at the NIA headquarters in New Delhi, during which Indian investigators are expected to ask questions on the status of the probe in Pakistan.
NIA officers are expected to seek details on arrests in Pakistan, and the action it has taken on the basis of intercepted telephone call records handed over by NSA Ajit Doval to his Pakistani counterpart, Lieutenant-General Nasir Janjua.
Sources said that during its interactions with the Pakistan team, India would share Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar’s brother Rauf Azhar’s assertion that the four terrorists entered the Pathankot airbase and carried out an attack. They added that India has the recording of the claim, which is also available on websites such as Alqalam.com and Rangnoor.com.
The Indian side will also share identities of the four dead terrorists, their parents, home town and facilitators, sources said. They said the NIA will seek information on many subjects related to the JeM and Masood Azhar, since it believes Azhar was the mastermind behind the attack.
The JIT will be free to question witnesses, who have been called to Delhi, sources said. A total of 17 witnesses, including the injured, have been lined up. However, no security personnel such as those from the National Security Guard or Border Security Force will be allowed to be examined.