External Affairs

India Still Awaits Response from Pakistan on the Request for Visit by the NIA Team

India had blamed the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed and its supremo, Masood Azhar of masterminding the attack in January on India’s forward air base at Pathankot.

Soldiers on the top of a building at the Indian air force base in Pathankot , a day after the end of military operations against militants in Pathankot. Credit: PTI

Soldiers on the top of a building at the Indian air force base in Pathankot , a day after the end of military operations against militants in Pathankot. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Over a month after Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team (JIT) came to India to collect the information related to Pathankot terror attack, it is yet to respond to India’s request for a ‘reciprocal’ visit by the National Investigation Agency – which is one of the key headways required for the India-Pakistan dialogue process.

Sources in the Indian government reiterated on May 17 that the Indian foreign secretary, S Jaishankar had flagged the visit of the NIA team during his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry on April 26.

“We are ascertaining Pakistan’s response. Details will be worked out subsequently,” added sources in response to media reports that NIA had sought to again raise the matter of their visit through diplomatic channels.

As per the NIA sources, a letter has been sent to the Ministry of External Affairs for further communication to Pakistan.

India had blamed the Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed and its supremo, Masood Azhar of masterminding the attack in January on India’s forward air base at Pathankot, near the international border. Over seven security personnel died during the three-day siege of the Indian Air Force base by four terrorists.

The Pakistani ambassador to India, Abdul Basit had earlier put the matter of the visit of the NIA team under a cloud of doubt. He had termed the visit “not an issue of reciprocity”, but a matter of “cooperation”. His statement was contested in India, with New Delhi pointing out that the terms of reference of JIT were agreed upon principles of reciprocity.

Later, the Pakistan PM’s foreign affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz was more conciliatory, noting that all “options were open” regarding the visit by the NIA.

The peace process between India and Pakistan is stalled with India looking for some “visible progress” on the Pathankot terror probe. Islamabad has, of course, asserted that any further movement depends on the investigations of the JIT and its final report.

The Nawaz Sharif government is currently struggling to stay on its feet in the political hurricane unleashed after the revelations of offshore accounts in the Panama papers. In this politically volatile situation, the Pakistan Army is perceived to be antagonistic to the ruling party, which has emboldened the opposition’s firepower against Nawaz Sharif.

In this scenario, Nawaz Sharif does not seem to have any political capital left to push the army, which has taken over the country’s foreign policy issues related to India.

Another complication between the two countries is the continuing detention of the Indian national, Kulbhushan Yadav, who had been arrested and ‘confessed’ on television of being an Indian spy. India had sought consular access to Yadav, which Pakistan has denied and is likely to put him on trial.

India is pinning hopes that the SAARC summit – which Pakistan will host this year in November – will provide an incentive to Islamabad to show progress on the terror front in order to secure the presence of the Indian Prime Minister.

Before that, Aziz has to visit India for the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia process, which will also take place later this year.

Meanwhile, Interpol has issued a fresh Red Corner Notice against Masood Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf in connection with the Pathankot terror attack.

The fresh Red Corner notice was issued after the NIA secured an ‘open-ended’ non-bailable warrant against Azhar and Rauf.  The fresh Red Corner notice is being seen as a mere formality as Pakistan has not yet acted on the arrest warrants earlier issued against the two.

An Interpol Red Corner Notice (RCN) is already pending against 48-year-old Azhar for being allegedly involved in the conspiracy behind attacks on the parliament and Jammu and Kashmir state assembly. Similar warrant is pending against 41-year-old Rauf in connection with the IC-814 hijacking case of 1999.

The NIA had also moved in for issuance of RCN against two others, Kashif Jaan and Shahid Latif, in this case alleged to be the handlers of the JeM terrorists who had infiltrated India on the intervening night of December 30-31.

The fresh warrants were issued on the basis of evidence presented by the NIA before a special court in Chandigarh which included telephonic conversation between the terrorists and the Jaish handlers like Jaan and Latif.

The video of Rauf was also presented before the court. In the video, which was uploaded on a website in Pakistan, Rauf had claimed responsibility for the attack and complimented his boys for it. The video was later removed and the website also vanished after that.

China has currently put a technical hold on India’s move to include Masood Azhar in the listings of the UNSC’s al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee.

(With inputs from PTI)