Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has said Pakistan will have to do more than merely register an FIR in the Pathankot airbase attack case if it hopes to restart the stalled dialogue process between the two neighbours.
“Pakistan needs to carry out a more serious investigation,” said the minister in an interview with India’s NDTV.
The Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department registered an FIR last week against unidentified suspects of the January 2 Pathankot assault, kicking off formal investigations into the attack which had left at least seven Indian soldiers dead.
Even as media reports suggest some ongoing backroom consultations between India and Pakistan with talks soon to follow, Parrikar’s remarks come as a departure from the semi-official discourse that sporadic terror attacks will not be allowed to derail talks.
This shift has come after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unplanned visit to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s residence near Lahore on his birthday on December 25 last year.
Parrikar’s comments are the only indication India has been looking at the status quo ante – no talks unless terror attacks are halted and Pakistan looks at where these attacks are emanating from.
“Registration of a case is merely a step ahead but it won’t do. There should be serious investigations. Our effort is that they should take legal action to our satisfaction,” the Indian minister said.
Parrikar also ruled out withdrawing soldiers from Siachen, a call often made by Pakistan, saying there was no question of vacating the strategic location as India occupied the highest peaks there. “Such things can be considered only after Pakistan establishes its credentials that it is worthy of trust,” he said.
He warned Pakistan that India would hit back at terror groups in their own language. “Those who inflicted pain on India will have to pay,” he said. “When, what and how it will be done will depend on our convenience.”
Following the Pathankot attack, India had accused the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad of carrying out the brazen, three-day assault by sending operatives across the border.
Pakistan responded to the allegations by launching a crackdown against the banned group, sealing a number of seminaries in Punjab and also reportedly taking into protective custody JeM chief Masood Azhar.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top foreign policy aide Sartaj Aziz confirmed on Monday that Maulana Azhar has been under protective custody and that some of the group’s premises have also been sealed.
“Action will follow against Maulana Azhar and others the moment evidence becomes available,” he told India Today.
Islamabad has also considered sending a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to the airbase in consultations with the Indian government to properly investigate the attack. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Sunday that India had agreed to receive Pakistani investigators.
Aziz added that the SIT would go as soon as possible, maybe during the first few days of March. “Pakistan is examining all the evidences, including the phone numbers given by India in the Pathankot attack case and that the NSAs of the two countries are in regular touch.”
Parrikar has said the SIT would not be allowed to go inside the Pathankot airbase. But Aziz said access to crime scene always helps the investigators.
On holding of the foreign secretary-level talks between the two countries, Aziz said the “ball is in India’s court”.
“The answer to it lies entirely with India,” he said, adding that he hoped prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif will meet on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington next month.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2016.