Hours after Pakistan sought “concrete evidence” from India regarding the Pathankot attack, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday in an apparent effort to nudge him to act against the perpetrators of the terrorist assault.
Sharif told Kerry during the telephone conversation late on Saturday that Pakistan is “swiftly carrying out investigations in a transparent manner and will bring out the truth”, said a statement from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s office.
The Prime Minister also reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to not allow anyone to use its soil “to conduct terror operations abroad”. Kerry extended full support and cooperation to Sharif “to find out the truth in the Pathankot terror incident”, the statement said.
Earlier, sources in Islamabad told Hindustan Times that Pakistani authorities had conveyed a request for “concrete evidence” to their Indian counterparts after Sharif chaired a meeting of top officials on Friday to discuss the assault on Pathankot airbase.
The move had raised apprehensions in New Delhi that Pakistan’s probe into the incident could be going the way of the 26/11 investigation.
The development came 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.
The statement from Sharif’s office quoted Kerry as saying that the US hoped the India-Pakistan dialogue “will continue despite the fact that terrorists have tried to thwart it”. Kerry added, “Continuation of India-Pakistan talks are needed in the interest of regional stability and the leadership role by both PMs is required to ensure continuous dialogue.”
Sharif told Kerry, “(The) world will see our effectiveness and sincerity in this regard...All state institutions are fully committed to eliminate terrorism.”
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 as 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.
Indian officials have said Islamabad has been given intercepts of telephone calls made by the attackers to Pakistan-based handlers, the Pakistani phone numbers they called and the locations of these numbers. The external affairs ministry spokesperson described this information as “actionable intelligence”.
Soon after receiving the information from India, Pakistan had acknowledged it was investigating some “leads”. Sharif 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.
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.