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Pakistan probe team ends Pathankot visit amid protests

Himalayan Paths

Pathankot, March 29 (IANS) A Pakistani team probing the terror attack on the IAF base here in Punjab in January ended its day-long visit to the frontier base and nearby areas in the border belt amid vocal protests by opposition parties.

It is the first time a Pakistan probe panel, which included an officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was allowed any access to a high-value Indian defence facility.

The Indian Air Force base was attacked on January 2, leading to the death of seven Indian security personnel and all the attackers after an 80-hour gun battle.

The five-member Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) reached the air base on Tuesday amid vociferous protests by activists of the Congress, AAP and Shiv Sena.

Those opposing the visit accused the central government of playing a “double game” – accusing the ISI of sponsoring terrorism in India and then letting an ISI official to visit the IAF base.

The team, which landed at Amritsar on Tuesday morning, was driven in a bullet-proof SUV to Pathankot, escorted to the rear side of the sprawling IAF base in a mini bus accompanied by NIA officials. Punjab’s Police’s elite SWAT commandos guarded them.

The Pakistani officials entered through a specially created entrance in the peripheral wall of the air base and were taken to specific areas in the complex. They spent a few minutes at the base.

They were kept away from the technical area and shown only those areas where security forces had engaged the Pakistani terrorists.

The team later visited various locations in the border belt of Pathankot district to retrace the movement of the terrorists.

They were shown the places where Punjab Police officer Salwinder Singh’s vehicle was hijacked by the terrorists and then abandoned near the base, the place where taxi driver Ikagar Singh was murdered and the route taken by the terrorists while reaching the IAF base.

“The Pakistani team was mostly driven around the places through which the terrorists came. At most places, they did not get out of their vehicle,” a Punjab Police officer accompanying the team told IANS.

Protests by Congress and Aam Aadmi Party activists erupted near the front gate of the Pathankot base as the Pakistan team headed towards it. But the demonstrators were about three kilometres from the area the JIT visited.

The protestors carried black flags and banners and shouted “Go Back” slogans.

“How can the ISI, which is accused of sponsoring terrorism in India, be allowed to investigate a major terrorist strike on a defence establishment here?” AAP leader Sanjay Singh asked.

The Pakistani officers were kept away from the media.

The JIT members, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday and had meetings with National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers, left for Amritsar on Tuesday morning en route to Pathankot.

“We have, physically and visually, barricaded the airbase. Tent walls were erected around the crime scene (gunbattle site) and nothing else will be visible to the JIT members,” an IAF officer told IANS.

The JIT was not allowed to interact with IAF or other defence and security officials and personnel involved in the operation against the terrorists.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said on Monday that the Pakistani team would not have access to the operational area of the base but only the isolated “crime scene”.

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