Few in Pakistan are surprised by New Delhi’s rejection of the claims that Islamabad has found little evidence that the men responsible for January’s attack on India’s Pathankot airbase came from across the border.
On the weekend, the Pakistan Today newspaper reported that members of the Pakistani team that had travelled across the border to inquire into the attack had said that Indian authorities had prior information about the perpetrators. India had used the attack as a tool to expand its “vicious propaganda” against Pakistan, a members of the Joint Investigation Team reportedly told the newspaper.
Indian officials immediately dismissed the Pakistan Today report as baseless and said that the quotes attributed to members of the investigation team had been concocted.
But for the most part, ordinary Pakistanis are far from willing to give India the benefit of the doubt. A fog of conspiracy hangs over the way most people view Pakistan’s relationship with India, especially in the light of the arrest by the Pakistani authorities last month of Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has allegedly confessed to being an agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing spy service.
“Essentially, it’s a replay of each and every attempt that Pakistan and India have made to jointly investigate something,” said Moeed Yusuf, a South Asia expert at Washington, D.C.-based United States Institute of Peace. “As each investigation proceeds, the Indian argument is ‘Pakistan does not have the political will. It’s stalling this.’ The Pakistani refrain is ‘You haven’t given us enough information.’”
Rewind and repeat
Pathankot is the newest point on the Indo-Pak reel of misfortune. On January 2, a group of six militants who had entered India through the Kathua-Gurdaspur border in Punjab, broke into the Pathankot Air Force Station. By the time the 80-hour siege was over, four militants and seven Indian security personnel were dead. India blamed the attack on the Jaish e Mohammad militant group – its founder and leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, hails from Pakistan.
For the first time, India allowed an investigation team from Pakistan to visit the site of an attack allegedly involving Pakistani support. The five-member joint investigation team is led by Tahir Rai, Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department chief, and includes an Inter-Services Intelligence official.
Across the border, a bureaucrat from Pakistan’s interior ministry in Feburary lodged a First Information Report against “unknown persons” in the Pathankot attack. Pakistan has also sealed a JeM-run seminary in Sialkot, as well as provided India with intelligence warnings about a possible terror strike in Gujarat by the Lashkar e Taiba and JeM, reported The Hindu on Saturday.
But upon the team’s return to Pakistan, sources told the Pakistani dailyThe News that the JIT was unable to collect adequate evidence in the 55 minutes it was allowed in Pathankot. India’s National Investigation Agency’s six-hour presentation, providing postmortems, call data records, and DNA reports of the four militants was reportedly not convincing enough – nor were the 16 witnesses to which the Pakistanis were provided access.
The official view
However, Rana Sanaullah, Punjab’s Home Minister, has said the team has not submitted its report to the Government of Punjab. He added that Pakistan was committed to getting to the bottom of the charges. “Pakistan’s military, government, and political institutions have resolved to put an end to militancy in Pakistan, and an end to Pakistan as a launchpad for militant activity,” he told Scroll.in. “If India is on board then we are more than ready to work with it, but we cannot work with India if it propagates militancy as policy.”
Khaled Ahmed, a senior journalist who works at Newsweek Pakistanand writes for The Indian Express, says the Pakistani visit to Pathankot came at an inopportune time. “We discovered we have an Indian agent living in Pakistan while the JIT was in India, and we will now project our negative feelings about this on to what happened in the Pathankot investigation,” he said, referring to a press conference by the Pakistani authorities at which a video purporting to be a confession by alleged RAW agent Jadhav was aired.
Pakistan’s conspiracy theorising has reached a crescendo since the press conference. For years, Pakistan has accused India of interfering in Balochistan and other regions. In India, the language of mistrust is echoed in the commonplace opinion that Pakistan has used non-state actors in cross-border operations such as the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and in Pathankot.
A sour note
Post-Pathankot, Pakistan and India have tried their hand at cooperation through the joint investigative team, and the sluggish 26/11 inquiry may have benefited from the bilateral coordination over this incident. But the discovery of Jadhav on Pakistani soil has soured the situation. Jadhav allegedly confessed he was plotting to destabilise Balochistan, particularly a port at Gwadar that is the jewel of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s crown.
It vindicates the Pakistani narrative that India must not be trusted. While in Pathankot, the Pakistani team was not allowed to meet a Sikh police officer who, allegedly, may have had insights into the investigation that NIA did not want to share, says Ahmed. The murder of a Muslim officer on the NIA team exacerbates this feeling of secrecy and nondisclosure, he added.
Pakistan’s seemingly listless approach to the 26/11 investigation, and now, following Pathankot, has caused concern even at home. Even Pakistan’s former high commissioner to India Aziz Ahmed Khan went on record to noted that Pakistan has not taken action against Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, the senior LeT commander accused of masterminding 26/11. He was released on bail in 2015, for lack of evidence as was Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar.
However, Ahmed says all is not lost. Azhar and Lakhvi’s bailouts are a stain, but Hafiz Saeed, LeT’s founder, “knows the heat is on him”.