Indo-Pak tensions rise after Pathankot airbase visit by Pakistani probe team
Pakistan Today newspaper reports that the five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which probed the Jan. 1 terrorist attack on Pathankot airbase in India, has indicted India for providing a misleading picture of what actually happened.
The newspaper perhaps obtained an authentic copy of the report from one of the JIT members.
Indians familiar with the official version of the attack on Pathankot airbase and the attribution of blame to Pakistan for organizing and conducting the terrorist operation must read this version and assess the huge information gap that exists between India and Pakistan on the episode.
The exercise is essential for any meaningful bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Pakistan Today (accessed on April 8), quoting the JIT, says the Pathankot “terrorist attack” was a “drama” staged by India to malign Pakistan.
No evidence was provided by India to prove that the attackers entered the airbase from the Pakistan side. Indian authorities had prior information about the possible attack and used it as a “tool” to expand its “vicious propaganda” against Pakistan without any solid evidence to back its case, the report says.
An Indian Muslim official, who had worked with the Pakistani investigating team during their visit to Pathankot, was murdered in a terrorist attack on April 2 arousing suspicion that the Indian establishment had something to hide.
The Indian government, instead of cooperating with the JIT, hindered the investigation.
The Indian security forces’ stand-off with the terrorists ended within a few hours and all the attackers were killed. But a three-day ‘drama’ was enacted to get maximum attention from the world community, malign Pakistan and prove its involvement in terrorist activities against India, the report says.
The JIT was not allowed entry through the main gate of the Pathankot airbase but was asked to go through a narrow passage out of a breach in the ground. The total time spent by the JIT in the airbase was only 55 minutes.
The team was denied opportunity to collect evidence from the site of the attack.
The JIT found that no major damage had been done to the airbase. The perimeter lights were said to be non-functional on the day of the attack.
India had advance information on the likely attack and the entire area had been sealed three days ahead of the raid. It was not clear why the electric fence around the airbase had not deterred the terrorists. India “ridiculously” claimed that the electric fence did not have power supply at that time due to technical problems, the report says.
Other flaws in the Indian case included India’s claim that the terrorists had scaled the high walls of the airbase with a single rope without a hook.
The perimeter lamps had been turned off despite a warning about the attack. The alleged involvement of Pakistani non-state actors was found to be unconvincing. The Indian story was thus a “badly knitted staged drama” and “another false flag operation” fully facilitated by the Indian army to put the blame on Pakistan, the report says.
The JIT further claimed that it was not provided with the recordings of the telephone conversations of the Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh and his wife. Copies of FIRs too were denied to them.
Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s envoy to India, speaking on April 7 at the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia in New Delhi, made comments embarrassing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Basit first announced the ‘suspension’ of talks between the two foreign secretaries and the dismissal of a reciprocal visit to Pakistan by an Indian JIT.
He referred to the arrest of Indian secret service agent Kulbhushan Jadhav who had allegedly embarked on a destabilizing mission in Baluchistan.
He defended China’s veto to an Indian application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as terrorist.
He said the Kashmir dispute was the core issue between India and Pakistan which needs resolution ahead of all other problems. India should move away from grandstanding on terrorism and revive the four-point formula for addressing the dispute.
India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf were active in back channel diplomacy and even arrived at the four-point formula for resolution of the Kashmir tangle. However, they had to leave their respective offices before accomplishing it.
The Pakistan Today report on the Pathankot event makes it clear that whatever be the truth, there exists an immense trust deficit between India and Pakistan. This is bound to affect their overall relationships across the board.
Perhaps Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had not taken the army on board before embarking on the JIT exercise on Pathankot.
Henry Kissinger has noted that in resolving complicated international crises, “the test is not absolute satisfaction but balanced dissatisfaction.”
Kissinger is cited by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, in his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, 2015 (p.353).
India should address this book more seriously than it has done so far.
(The writer is a former Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry in India and an author)