New Delhi: In an ideal world, there would be hardly anything amiss about two countries with a hostile past sharing intelligence on terrorism and crime. Perhaps it would also augur well for the possible détente and peace between nuclear neighbours India and Pakistan wh0 are often locked in brinkmanship of the worst order.
In this context, the visit by Pakistan’s investigative team, comprising sleuths and counter-terror operatives, gives an illusion that India-Pakistan relations are on even keel. This raises pertinent queries — has Pakistan given up promoting cross-border terrorism? Is the Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI), the dreaded Pakistani outfit, willing to give up its doctrine of inflicting “thousand cuts” to bleed India? Has the Pakistani army finally become subservient to its political masters?
Despite the overt bonhomie generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unscheduled Lahore visit to Nawaz Sharif’s palace in December last year, there are hardly any signs of the existence of such an ideal situation between the two countries. At the ground level, Pakistan has not demonstrated any willingness to change its tack on terrorism, or of collaborating with India.
There are clear indications that Pakistan treated evidence of the involvement of Pakistani terrorists in the Pathankot airbase attack with its usual cavalier attitude. The arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar was at best an eye-wash to ward off international criticism. On all accounts, it would be too naïve for India to consider the charade of the joint investigation in Pathankot as a mark of substantive policy shift in Pakistan.
In fact, the Pathankot attack and India’s response have exposed many chinks in the country’s internal security. For instance, despite exhaustive investigations by the National Investigative Agency (NIA), the agency is hardly in a position to draw up a coherent chargesheet to plug the holes in the story. The exact point of entry of the terrorists remains a mystery and footprints picked up near the border could not be matched with those killed in the encounter.
Though the NIA now claims that six terrorists were killed at the Pathankot airbase, the recovery from the debris at the billet where two terrorists were holed up yielded nothing concrete, not even guns. It was only after forensic examination that the NIA was able to confirm the existence of mortal remains of the two terrorists mixed up in the blast material.
A senior officer of the Border Security Force (BSF) pointed out that despite the best efforts of the BSF and the NIA, the infiltration point could not be determined. An investigation by the CBI’s own intelligence unit, however, points to a disturbing trend of infiltration of terrorists with tacit support of the ISI.
BSF officials feel that most of the terrorists involved had either infiltrated through the Jammu border or arrived in India using fake passports, following which they disappeared in Punjab. “We suspect that they get arms and ammunition from ISI sleeper-cells within Punjab,” BSF officials said.
Obviously, the BSF is reluctant to admit that terrorists were bribing their way into India through the international border between Punjab and Pakistan. In the Pathankot investigation so far, neither the NIA nor the BSF has come across any evidence to confirm this fear.
Sustained interrogation of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh, whose car was hijacked by terrorists to carry out the attack, has also drawn a blank.
In such a scenario, there appear to be clear signs that the Indian investigative and intelligence agencies are falling woefully short of creating a credible story to prove Pakistani involvement in the Pathankot attack.
Thus, the visit by the five-member Joint Investigative Team from Pakistan is unlikely to yield anything more than optics that signify nothing. On the other hand, it may just give Pakistan an excuse to recalibrate its strategy with its sinister objectives.