A Pakistani team will travel to India on March 27 to investigate the terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase, the first time intelligence and law enforcement operatives from the neighbouring country will conduct such a probe on Indian soil.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced the joint investigation team’s (JIT) visit on Thursday after a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines of a SAARC meet in the resort town of Pokhara.
“It’s not possible that I and the Pakistan foreign affairs adviser meet and the Pathankot issue is not taken up. Yes, it was discussed,” Swaraj told reporters during a brief interaction.
“The date for the JIT’s visit has been decided. It will arrive on the night of March 27 and begin its work on March 28.”
Pakistan formed the five-member JIT, which includes representatives from the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and police, last month after filing a First Information Report (FIR) regarding the attack.
The FIR was essential for investigators to travel to India to record evidence and interview witnesses.
Though the FIR was filed against unidentified attackers and abettors, India has blamed Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed for the January 2 attack that killed seven people.
Pakistani intelligence and law enforcement personnel have never visited India in the past to probe any terrorist attack. Two Pakistani judicial commissions travelled to India to review evidence and interview key witnesses in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
There has been considerable confusion on whether a team with ISI operatives would be allowed entry into Pathankot airbase, but minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said on Thursday the JIT would be allowed to travel “wherever necessary” for its probe.
“We will allow them to visit wherever necessary,” Rijiju said in response to questions from reporters on whether the Pakistani team will be given access to the strategic airbase located near the border.
“We have taken an in-principle decision to facilitate the visit of a Pakistani team to India for furtherance of our case.”
While in India, the Pakistani JIT is expected to examine the bodies of the six terrorists killed during the attack and inspect other evidence gathered by Indian investigators.
Following the 20-minute meeting with Swaraj, Sartaj Aziz expressed satisfaction at the way the Pathankot attack was handled by both countries.
“The way the Pathankot issue has been handled and the cooperation between both sides, including the JIT’s proposed visit, will hopefully lead to a positive outcome,” he said.
He expressed hope that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will meet on the sidelines of a Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama on March 31.
“It is expected that both prime ministers will meet in Washington. But since Prime Minister Modi will be there just for one day, we can’t be sure of a structured dialogue,” he said.
Aziz added a meeting between the prime ministers would take forward the process of dialogue which had got “interrupted”.
Aziz handed over to Swaraj an invitation for Modi to attend the SAARC summit to be hosted by Pakistan during November 9-10. Swaraj said she had accepted the invitation on behalf of the Prime Minister.
The Pathankot attack derailed a meeting of the foreign secretaries scheduled for the middle of January after Aziz and Swaraj had agreed in December to start a comprehensive bilateral dialogue.
Thursday’s bilateral meeting was preceded by two informal exchanges between Swaraj and Aziz, the first during a dinner reception on Wednesday evening followed by a discussion over breakfast on Thursday.