Restricted Pathankot airbase access to Pakistani investigators: Government (Roundup)

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New Delhi/Panaji, March 28 (IANS) An outraged opposition on Monday questioned the government’s move to allow Pakistanis, including an ISI officer, into India to probe the Pathankot terror attack even as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the visiting investigators would only go to an isolated “crime” spot and not the entire sensitive airbase.

As the Congress and AAP launched a tirade against the government, Parrikar said the defence ministry had “refused permission” to the visiting Pakistani probe panel to access the entire Indian Air Force (IAF) base, where six Pakistani militants in a gun and bomb attack on January 2 killed seven Indian security personnel.

He said that the shootout area was “completely barricaded” and “visually blocked” to prevent any view of sensitive areas. “The area is isolated, taken out of the airbase,” Parrikar told reporters in Panaji on the sidelines of the DefExpo 2016.

The site however is part of the sprawling 2,000-acre complex that houses high-value Indian defence assets, including fighter jets. The minister insisted the shootout site has no contact with the base and has a separate entry also.

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“The crime scene has been handed over to the NIA. Who they want to bring there is their call. If we don’t give (NIA) the freedom for investigation, the burden of failure will come to the defence ministry.”

The Pakistani team arrived in India on Sunday to conduct its own probe into the Pathankot attack. Senior ISI official Lt. Colonel Tanvir Ahmed and Military Intelligence officer Lt. Colonel Irfan Mirza are part of the team, sources said.

The team will on Tuesday fly to Pathankot in a special BSF plane that will land away from the Pathankot airbase, official sources said. From there, they will be taken to the barricaded shootout spot where alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed militants were holed up during the gunfight that went on for some 80 hours.

India says that six terrorists from Pakistan-based JeM attacked the base on January 2. All the terrorists were gunned down in the gun battle that also left a civilian dead.

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The Congress and the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi lambasted the government and questioned how an ISI officer was allowed to visit India and permitted inside the airbase.

“It appears to be a case of an accused investigating himself. The BJP government has distinguished and, therefore, recognized that Pakistani establishment does not have a role in perpetuating terror in India, more so in context to Pathankot terror attack,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.

“Why is an officer of the infamous ISI of Pakistan a part of the JIT?”

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal went a step further and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of surrendering to Pakistan by allowing the Pakistani investigators to probe the attack.

“Till now, Pakistan was held responsible for spreading terror. ISI itself sent terrorists to India and the same agency has now been allowed to investigate (the) terror attack,” the Aam Aadmi Party leader told reporters in Delhi. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has surrendered to Pakistan.”

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The Pakistani probe team was on Monday briefed by National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the findings of its probe into the attack that was allegedly masterminded by JeM chief Masood Azhar.

NIA sources told IANS that the Pakistani investigators were given a detailed presentation on the evidence that “proves” that the attack was planned in Pakistan and had a link to Azhar’s JeM.

The Pakistani team will also be allowed to speak to witnesses but not to the personnel from the National Security Guard (NSG) or the BSF. Minister Parrikar confirmed this and said the Pakistani team will interact with no defence person or use any defence vehicle during its Pathankot visit.

This is the first time that India has allowed Pakistani investigators to probe a terror attack in India blamed on that country. Also, Lt. Colonel Ahmed has become the first ISI officer to be officially allowed to visit India.

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