India-Pakistan relations were back under the spotlight Friday after it emerged that on the night of June 26, hours before two drones dropped explosives on an IAF base in Jammu early June 27, a drone was spotted over the premises of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
The drone hovered over the High Commission premises where Indian diplomats and diplomats from other countries had gathered last Saturday for a party to commemorate “India @75”, part of the year-long celebrations to mark 75 years of independence, The Indian Express has learnt.
Some Pakistan nationals too were present at the event being held outdoors in line with the Covid-19 protocol.
When the drone was spotted, sources said, security personnel at the High Commission immediately raised an alarm. They also took up the matter with Pakistani security officials stationed outside the High Commission. But they did not have to take any “kinetic action” against the drone, sources said.
The next day, on Sunday, High Commission officials raised the issue with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry and diplomatic security authorities in Islamabad.
An official note verbale outlining the incident was also sent to the Pakistani authorities.
The Indian High Commission is located in a high-security zone in Islamabad, a little over a kilometre from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry and important institutions including the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Confirming the incident, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said Friday: “A drone was spotted over the premises of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on June 26. This has been taken up officially with the Government of Pakistan. We expect Pakistan to investigate the incident and prevent recurrence of such breach of security.”
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry called the Indian statement “preposterous”. Its spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said: “We have seen the Indian MEA’s statement… These preposterous claims have no basis in facts and no proof whatsoever has been shared with Pakistan to substantiate these allegations.”
He said this “is also happening at a time when evidence so far collected in the Lahore blast of 23 June is increasingly pointing to external forces”.
Indian diplomats, sources said, were quite taken aback by the turn of events on June 27.
In the early hours of Sunday, two drones dropped an IED each, packed with high grade-explosives, on an IAF base in Jammu.
Sources said the Indian High Commission has now been put “on alert”.
While Pakistan’s security officials at the Diplomatic Enclave usually ask questions and put under surveillance routinely all those visiting the Indian High Commission, sources said this was a new element because it appeared to be “aerial surveillance”.
Sources, however, said it is “too early” to link the drone operations over the Indian High Commission and the IAF station in Jammu.
Asked to comment on the possibility of Pakistan’s involvement in the Jammu incident, Bagchi said: “The investigation is in progress”. He did not elaborate.
On the issue of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) deciding to keep Pakistan in the grey list, the MEA spokesperson said: “As far as terrorism and terror financing are concerned, we have a zero-tolerance policy. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, all countries must take credible action against terrorism, including by putting an end to cross-border movement of terrorists, ending terrorist safe havens, and infrastructure, and their financing channels.”
“In this regard, we call upon Pakistan to take credible, verifiable, and irreversible action against terrorist networks and proxies, operating from territories under its control, and to bring the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, including the 26 November Mumbai attack and the Pathankot attack to justice,” he said.
The turn of events come at a time when the two sides are engaged in back channel conversations to bring the Indo-Pak relationship back on track.
The two countries have been holding back-channel talks for the last few months, with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval leading the Indian initiative with Pakistan’s civilian-military leadership. Doval is learnt to have met Pakistan’s NSA Moeed Yusuf and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in a third country, and has also kept communication channels open with Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
On June 23-24, days before the Islamabad and Jammu incidents, Doval and Yusuf were in Dushanbe in Tajikistan for a meeting of NSAs of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
With Yusuf listening, Doval “proposed an action plan against Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as part of the SCO framework”.
He had said “perpetrators of terrorism including cross-border terror attacks should be expeditiously brought to justice”. He underlined the “need for full implementation of UN resolutions and targeted sanctions against UN designated terrorist individuals and entities” — it was a reference to Pakistan’s lack of action against LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM chief Masood Azhar.