Pakistan has sought “concrete evidence” from India for acting against elements involved in the Pathankot attack instead of the “leads” provided so far by New Delhi, raising apprehensions that the probe into the incident could be going the way of the 26/11 investigation.
Sources in Islamabad told Hindustan Times that Pakistani authorities had conveyed the request for “concrete evidence” to their Indian counterparts after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting of top officials on Friday to discuss the assault on Pathankot airbase.
The development comes less than a week before a planned meeting of the foreign secretaries of the two sides in Islamabad on January 15 to frame the schedule and modalities for the new comprehensive dialogue process.
India has linked the talks to its demand for “prompt and decisive action” against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, which has been blamed on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.
In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan repeatedly sought concrete evidence against the suspects, including LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, even though India provided several dossiers. The Pakistani trial of the seven suspects in the 26/11 attack has made little headway.
“Pakistan’s investigation of Pathankot certainly seems to be going in the same direction of the investigation into Mumbai. There will be pretensions of action but no serious moves,” said G Parthasarathy, a former high commissioner to Pakistan.
“The JeM has a special relationship with the ISI because it shares a Deobandi affinity with the Afghan Taliban. It is important for the ISI in both Afghanistan and India. The Lashkar-e-Taiba will be the main group used against India but the JeM will also be kept in play,” he said.
Following Friday’s meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sharif, an unnamed senior official was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper: “We are expecting evidence beyond leads and information to proceed as per our law.”
The Dawn reported the official’s comments “provided an insight into Pakistan’s planned response to India”.
Indian officials earlier said Islamabad had been given intercepts of telephone calls made by the attackers to their Pakistan-based handlers, the Pakistani phone numbers they called and the locations of these numbers. The external affairs ministry spokesperson had described this information as “actionable intelligence”.
Soon after receiving the information from India, Pakistan had acknowledged some “leads” had been shared that were being investigated. Sharif had also telephoned his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and assured him of “prompt and decisive action”.
The JeM has been banned by Pakistan but continues to be active in several parts of the country, including the southern part of Punjab province.
Though a statement issued by Sharif’s office on Friday had said that the Prime Minister had reviewed the “progress on the information shared by India”, sources said no action had so far been taken against the JeM or its leaders.
Sharif’s government has traditionally been reluctant to act against terror groups based in Punjab, including the JeM and Lashkar-e-Taiba, because of fears of a blowback in the province that is the main base of the Prime Minister’s PML-N party.
The meeting chaired by Sharif on Friday was also attended by the military top brass, including army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar. The statement issued after the meeting contended that “Pakistan’s entire leadership and institutions were working in complete harmony to counter terrorism and extremism”.