A team of five Pakistani police and intelligence officials arrived in New Delhi on Sunday to probe the January 2 terror attack at the Pathankot Indian Air Force base in Punjab.
The team will travel to Pathankot on Tuesday and will question witnesses there. An official source said the Pakistani team will be given limited access to the airbase where at least seven military personnel were killed after an attack by alleged Pakistani terrorists.
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. The access was granted as India hoped that Pakistan will bring to justice the alleged perpetrators, including Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.
Indian investigators believe that Azhar, who was released after the Indian Airlines’ IC 814 hijacking in 1999 in Afghanistan’s Kandhahar, masterminded the Pathankot attack.
The team will visit only those areas of Pathankot airbase in Punjab where militants were engaged in an 80-hour gun battle.
India’s anti-terror agency NIA is ready to help the team meet 17 people injured in the early-January assault blamed on JeM.
This is 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 arrived by a special aircraft shortly after 1pm in Delhi, where was to get a detailed presentation on the NIA’s probe.
It will reach Pathankot on Monday 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.