Pak probe team at Pathankot air base, Protests by Cong, AAP

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Pathankot, March 29: A five-member Pakistani probe team, including an ISI official, Tuesday visited the IAF base here, entering through the same breached perimeter wall used by terrorists in the January 2 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 January 1 this year before launching the attack later that night. They killed seven securitymen before being shot dead after an 80-hour gun battle.

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Waving black flags and placards, scores of Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) workers stood outside the air base protesting against the visit and shouted anti-Pakistan slogans. They accused the BJP government of hurting the sentiments of the people of the country by allowing the Pakistan team to probe terror attack on Indian soil. 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.

“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.

The team, accompanied by NIA officials, reached Amritsar airport on a special Border Security Force aircraft at about 9:15 AM after which they were driven in a convoy of six white bulletproof SUVs, protected by Punjab police commandos.

The entire periphery area of the air base and the interiors next to it, including the Defence Security Corps mess, was covered and a visual blind created by using white and yellow tents. The team later left for the spot where SP Salwinder Singh was allegedly abducted by the terrorists before the attack. They are also likely to visit Baniyal outpost from where the four Jaish terrorists were suspected to have sneaked into the country.

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Investigators from India and Pakistan had met in Delhi on Monday. The Defence Ministry has already made it clear that the team will have no access to the operational and strategic areas of the base which not only houses fighter jets of the Indian Air Force but also attack helicopters.

Apart from the official of intelligence agency ISI, the Pakistani team also includes Lahore’s Deputy Director General Intelligence Bureau Mohammad Azim Arshad, Military Intelligence Lt Col Irfan Mirza and Gujaranwala CTD Investigating Officer Shahid Tanver.

The opposition parties have 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.

Chanting slogans against the Centre and holding placards saying “Pak JIT go back” the protesters also waved black flags and reached the gates of the base, where defence personnel stopped them from entering the restricted area.

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.

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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.”

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