On a day of high-level diplomatic activity over the attack on the Pathankot airbase, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif telephoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi, assuring him of Islamabad’s support in investigating the leads provided by New Delhi, hours after their National Security Advisors spoke to each other.
Acknowledging the urgency of the situation, Mr. Sharif placed the call from Colombo, during his state visit there, and the conversation indicated that both Prime Ministers were in favour of continuing the recently renewed diplomatic engagement.
In the call that lasted about 15 minutes, Mr. Modi reportedly made it clear that the evidence from the attack on the air force base in Punjab led directly to a group in Pakistan. “Prime Minister Modi strongly emphasised the need for Pakistan to take firm and immediate action against the organisations and individuals responsible for and linked to the Pathankot terrorist attack. Specific and actionable information in this regard has been provided to Pakistan,” the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs shortly after the telephone call on Tuesday afternoon, said.
Mr. Sharif assured Mr. Modi that his government was investigating the leads provided by India to Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, Gen. (retd.) Janjua. According to Mr. Sharif’s spokesperson, the Pakistan Prime Minister said his government was “working on the leads and information provided by the Indian government.”
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It is the first time the two leaders have spoken since they met on December 25 when Mr. Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore, and comes in sharply contrasting circumstances, as the attack on the airbase has thrown a cloud over the future of India-Pakistan engagement.
The spokesperson told The Hindu Mr. Sharif also pointed out that “whenever a serious effort to bring peace between two countries was under way, terrorists try to derail the process,” adding: “Both the Prime Ministers agreed that a cordial and cooperative relationship between two countries would be the most appropriate response to the nefarious designs of the terrorists.”
India gives Pakistan a chance to crack down
The telephonic conversation between Mr. Modi and Mr. Nawaz Sharif assumes significance as it indicates for the first time that New Delhi is giving Islamabad a chance to prove that it will crackdown on the group responsible for the terrorist strike that saw seven Indian soldiers killed, believed to be the Bahawalpur-based Jaish-e Mohammad.
Significantly, the government has also refrained from officially naming any group, or publicly pointing at the Pakistani establishment for the attack. In a speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Modi referred to the terrorists only as “enemies of humanity” who “couldn’t bear to watch India’s growth”.
Speaking to Mr. Modi, Mr. Sharif reportedly “appreciated the maturity shown by the government of India in its statements,” while conveying his “sadness and grief” over the loss of lives.
Officials told The Hindu the next step in engagement depends entirely on what “action on the ground” is taken by Pakistan on the basis of evidence that India has shared. While neither side officially confirmed the details of the leads shared between the two National Security Advisors, sources told The Hindu Mr. Doval and Mr. Janjua have spoken twice since the attack began, including once on Tuesday morning.
The leads shared reportedly include details of the phone-calls made by the terrorist group to their handlers and families in Pakistan, as well as evidence recovered from the bodies of the attackers. The fact that India had shared leads on the Pathankot operation, even while it was ongoing, was revealed by the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday night in a statement where it confirmed that the government was working on evidence provided by India.
The close coordination between the two governments and the lack of a belligerent reaction from India as in the past, gives credence to reports that India had received credible intelligence on the attack from sources “on the ground” in Pakistan. While officials on both sides did not confirm the reports, a senior intelligence official confirmed to The Hindu that a “specific alert” was received in late December from the intelligence agencies of “a third country” around Christmas day.
According to sources, it was this alert that was confirmed after the kidnapping of the SP of Gurdaspur, and subsequent intercepts of calls made from his telephone, allowed the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to make preparations for the attack on the Pathankot airbase. Despite the early warnings, however, the terrorists were able to breach the security of the airbase and continue their attack for more than 60 hours.
“What the early intelligence proves to us is that if the government in Pakistan wants to find the perpetrators of the attack, it will be quite easy to pin-point the location from where the terrorists came,” a former security official, who asked not to be named, said, “While such evidence has been available in past attacks as well, seldom have we seen such close coordination between the national security advisors after the attacks.”