On Tuesday A five-member Pakistani probe team, including an ISI official, visited the IAF base in Pathankot, entering through the same breached perimeter wall used by terrorists in the 2 January attack, even as Congress and AAP intensified protests against the visit.
The Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) team accompanied by NIA officials entered the strategic airbase from its rear side after their convoy stopped at 'Upper Doaba' canal here and the members took a mini bus to travel through the dirt track next to the water body.
The team, officials said, was taken to only the "scene of crime" where the encounter occurred between the security men and terrorists and the entire process was videographed by two IAF personnel.
It is for the first time that that a Pakistani team has visited the country to probe a terror case and has been given access to a strategic installation. The Pakistani JIT is led by Punjab's Additional Inspector General of Police, Counter Terrorism Department, Muhammad Tahir Rai and also includes ISI's Lt Col rank officer Tanvir Ahmed.
The area was "visually barricaded" so that the defence assets were not exposed, officials said. Commandos of the special SWAT team ran for half a kilometre with the bus, till the JIT and NIA sleuths entered from a newly created entry on the airbase's perimeter wall laden with huge concertina wires at about 11:20 AM.
This the same fence from where at least four terrorists breached the airbase security apparatus and entered on the
morning of 1 January this year before launching the attack later that night. They killed seven security men before being shot dead after an 80-hour gun battle.
Protests erupted near the Pathankot airbase on Tuesday morning as Pakistan's Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the terror attack on the air base headed to Pathankot town in north Punjab.
Waving black flags and placards, scores of Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers on Tuesday stood outside the air base protesting against the visit and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans.
The banners named officials of the Pakistani team, especially those from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence.
Security agencies deputed additional personnel outside the rear part of the air base following the protests to strengthen security.
AAP's Delhi Minister Kapil Mishra said allowing Pakistani JIT to visit the air base was "shameful and disgusting".
"For the first time in 35 years, we are saying that ISI was not supporting terrorism... the same people who have killed our people have come here...this is so shameful and disgusting," Mishra said.
"This is an insult of our mother India. We will not let Modi government to do this," he said.
"Instead of allowing Pakistan's investigation team to visit India to probe Pathankot attacks, Indian security
agencies should have been sent to Pakistan to investigate the role of masterminds "enjoying hospitality of Pakistan Government not only in Pathankot attacks but in Mumbai attacks too", Mishra said.
"If Pakistan was serious about probing the Pathankot attack, its team should have probed the involvement of masterminds of attacks against whom India has already given ample evidence to Pakistan," he said.
"Modi has shown his real face. We do not want killers to be allowed to probe the matter. We will not tolerate this and that is why AAP is holding protest here," said AAP leader Singh, who is party incharge for Punjab affairs.
"It is an insult to Indians and martyrs," he said.
Singh hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying "he used to claim of having 56-inch chest to deal with any evil design of Pakistan, but now has virtually mortgaged the dignity and sovereignty of the country to Pakistan for the sake of developing personal relations with his friend Nawaz Sharif."
Punjab opposition parties, the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had said that they protest against the Pakistan team visit to the AFS.
The opposition parties slammed the government for allowing the visit with Congress saying that according an almost "red carpet welcome" to JIT raised serious questions on procedural propriety in relation to compromise on national security and likened it to an accused investigating himself.
Senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh, Delhi Minister Kapil Mishra and Punjab's Convenor of AAP Sucha Singh Chhotepur led the protest near the Pathankot airbase.
Tight security arrangements had been made in and around the frontier IAF base in view of the visit and likely protests against the visiting Pakistani investigation team.
Authorities at Pathankot airbase said that the visiting Pakistan probe team will be taken only to specific and limited areas within the sprawling Air Force Station (AFS) complex.
The JIT members will be kept away from the AFS' technical area and shown only those areas where security forces engaged the Pakistani terrorists in the first week of January.
"We have, physically and visually, barricaded the airbase. Tent walls have been erected around the crime scene (shootout site) and nothing else will be visible to the JIT members. Their entry will also be through a special gate through the rear portion of the airbase," an IAF officer told IANS.
Punjab Police DIG (deputy inspector general) Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said that the Pakistan JIT will be taken by the NIA to the site of the gunbattle.
"The team will be provided access to the area of the encounter," Singh said.
Informed defence sources here said the team members could also be shown the bodies of the killed terrorists kept in a government mortuary.
NIA officers will accompany the JIT members.
The JIT will not get to interact with IAF or other defence and security officials and personnel involved in the 80-hour counter-operation by security forces against the terrorists who attacked the airbase in the early hours of 2 January.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday in Goa that the Pakistani team would not have access to the operational area of the airbase, but only the isolated "crime scene", which has been completely barricaded and fenced.
All the terrorists and seven security personnel were killed at the base.
The January attack on the IAF base was the second one by suspected Pakistani terrorists. A group of three Pakistani terrorists had attacked Dinanagar town in adjoining Gurdaspur district on 27 July last year, leaving seven people dead.
While the visit by Pakistani sleuths has led to protests by political parties, it has also sparked curiosity among
residents of the town.
"We have heard about some agents or ISI moles being nabbed by police or intelligence agencies from this area in the past.... The curiosity is obvious," Prakash Sharma, a book stall owner near the Pathankot railway station, said.
"People even lined up the approach road to catch a glimpse of the convoy," Umesh Bhatia, a local medical student
Police officials said they diligently barricaded areas along the air base.
"The district police were informed about the visit and deployments were done accordingly," a senior police official.
With inputs from agencies