A Pakistani team investigating the Pathankot attack arrived in the Capital on Monday and told National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials it had the legal mandate to gather evidence in India though defence minister Manohar Parrikar said it would be granted restricted access to the attacked fighter base.
The five-member joint investigation team (JIT) which will visit the Pathankot air force station on Tuesday handed a copy of Pakistan’s criminal procedure code to Indian officials at the NIA headquarters.
“The Pak investigators said they don’t need to send any judicial request for assistance in probe (called letter rogatory or LR in Indian legal parlance) to India for formally gathering evidence here,” a senior government official said. “They clarified their criminal procedure code doesn’t even have a provision for the LR and it provides them a sufficient legal framework to formally seek evidence and present it in court.”
Earlier, the Congress questioned the “real intent” of the Pakistani team’s visit without a letter rogatory and guarantee of prosecution. Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said Pakistan had not provided its team the LR that would have made the evidence collected fit for judicial use.
“One is forced to wonder as to what is the investigation all about, if it is not going to be of any use to nail the supposed non-state actors in Pakistani courts,” Surjewala said.
India had asked the JIT to get judicial approval in Pakistan as without that the interaction with NIA officials would remain informal.
“The JIT of Pakistan and the NIA team are interacting under extant legal procedures of India and Pakistan,” NIA inspector general Sanjeev Singh said.
The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party said the government was giving JIT officials access to the airbase without any assurance from Islamabad on action against the perpetrators. They also raised questions on the presence of an ISI official in the JIT.
“We were saying ISI was responsible, it was a Pakistan-sponsored attack. Has this position changed?” Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal said. But Parrikar clarified the JIT had been denied permission to land at the airbase, use military vehicles or speak to defence personnel.
The 18 Wing fighter base holds Russian-origin MiG-21 warplanes and a mix of Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters. The pre-dawn terror strike on January 2 left seven security personnel dead, including a lieutenant colonel.
“We have specifically denied them permission to go anywhere in the airbase,” Parrikar said and added the visiting team would be given access only to the “crime scene”.
The technical area where IAF’s high-value assets are parked would be “completely barricaded,” the minister said. “The defence ministry has issued directions very clearly that the crime scene should be barricaded, visually blocked,” Parrikar said.
The Pakistani team is headed by chief of Punjab’s counter-terrorism department Muhammad Tahir Rai and comprises Lahore’s deputy director general, Intelligence Bureau, Mohammad Azim Arshad, ISI official Lt Col Tanvir Ahmed, military intelligence official Lt Col Irfan Mirza and Gujaranwala counter-terrorism department investigating officer Shahid Tanveer.