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Pak probe team arriving today will get limited access to Pathankot base

india Updated: Mar 27, 2016 08:14 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
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File photo of an Indian security personnel standing guard on a building at the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot in Punjab, India, January 5, 2016. (Reuters)

A five-member team from Pakistan that arrives on Sunday to probe a suspected cross-border attack on an Indian airbase will examine all three witnesses but won’t get complete access to the strategic facility.

The team will visit only those areas of Pathankot airbase in Punjab where militants were engaged in an 80-hour gun battle that killed seven Indian soldiers.

India’s anti-terror agency NIA is ready to help the team meet 17 people injured in the early-January assault blamed on Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

This will be the first time a Pakistan team will examine witnesses in a case in India, and New Delhi doesn’t want the neighbouring country to cite “lack of cooperation” at any level.

This is also the first time an official of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is part of such a high-profile team that has India’s nod.

The team, however, will not be able to question soldiers from the National Security Guard and the Border Security Force, and commandos of Indian Air Force’s Garud division.

Any lead picked up by the Pakistan team will not be of any legal use in the absence of Letter Rogatory, a request from a court to a foreign court for any judicial assistance.

But, there are hopes that Pakistan will conduct a serious probe during the “goodwill visit”.

The team will arrive by a special aircraft at 11am in Delhi, where it will get a detailed presentation on NIA’s probe.

It will reach Pathankot the next day by 11am either by car or by a BSF chopper. If a chopper is used, it will not land in the airbase.

Salvinder Singh, Gurdaspur superintendent of police, Madan Gopal, his cook, and Rajesh Verma, the policeman’s friend, will be examined. Militants kidnapped them on December 31 night before entering the IAF base.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is likely to ask for information on the four attackers and the people who facilitated their entry into India through Bamiyal village on the border. India will also press for a visit of its probe team to Pakistan.

India might also seek some phone numbers and information on JeM chief Masood Azhar, his brother and companies that supplied packed food to the militants.

Officials are expected to cite similarities between the Pathankot attack and strikes in Samba and Kathua last year - the use of GPS and wireless sets, the act of hijacking cars, energy drink ‘Red bull’ (common in all attacks) and identical wire cutters and arms.

The Pakistan team, led by Punjab Counter Terrorism Department’s (CTD’s) additional inspector general of police, Muhammad Tahir Rai, will return to Delhi on Tuesday and leave for Pakistan.

Other members of the team are: Lahore deputy director general of the Intelligence Bureau, Mohammad Azim Arshad, ISI Lt Col Tanvir Ahmad, military intelligence Lt Col Irfan Mirza and Gujjaranwala CTD investigating officer Shahid Tanveer.