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Pathankot attack: It's NIA's word against the NSG's now

Anand Kochukudy | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:00 IST

On the evening of 2 January, 2016, many hours after the NSG was engaged in an encounter with the terrorists who infiltrated the Pathankot airbase, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated the armed forces on Twitter.

"Our armed forces and other security forces on successfully neutralising all the five terrorists," he tweeted. Only 4 terrorists were killed by that point and as the further events unfolded, the Home Minister had to scurry to delete the tweet.

Also read - Exclusive: India tipped off on 25 Dec about Pathankot. Even as Modi met Sharif

As the NSG commandoes began combing the area, they found one of the rooms of the airmen's billet bolted from the inside. According to the NSG, a grenade was lobbed from the inside that injured half-a-dozen commandoes. Fighting resumed and it took almost 48 hours for the NSG to neutralise the "2 terrorists" holed up in the room as the building eventually got set on fire. The NIA, which investigated the case, and even the IB, didn't necessarily agree with the version of the NSG that 6 terrorists were part of the terrorist module. We will come to that in a bit.

While replying to the debate on the Pathankot attack in the Lok Sabha last week, Rajnath Singh quoted the forensic report by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Chandigarh, and read out that "the burned mass material belongs to a human male. It could not be possible to establish the identity of burnt male remains as under reference" and that the "2 people inside were indeed terrorists".

Unanswered questions

However, many questions persist. The NIA has reacted with surprise to the developments and maintains they haven't yet received the forensic report. NIA had reached a preliminary conclusion that there were only 4 terrorists despite the count of 6 given by the NSG. And the NIA had only recovered 4 AK-47s and 3 pistols from the encounter site in all. There were many discrepancies in the NSG's version of 6 terrorists according to the NIA, beginning with the design of the billet number 149 on the ground floor where the terrorists were supposedly holed up and the lobbing of the grenade.

Another claim by the NSG was that almirahs were stacked up against the door but came undone as they were found to be fixed to the walls. And strangely, these two terrorists weren't for some reason carrying their routine AK-47s and staved off the NSG commandoes for more than 30 hours with just a pistol. Even the pistol in question or its remains haven't been recovered.

Another contention by the NSG is that some equipment or sensor had picked up at least one person's presence inside. It all sounds slightly improbable. In as many as 7 rounds of searches of the airmen's billet that concluded a fortnight back, investigators had been unable to recover even small fragments of weapons or ammunition.

Even human bones and teeth were not to be found though the forensic enquiry now seems to have discovered the presence of human remains in the charred mass of samples sent to them. But even then a DNA extraction has been ruled out.

The NIA had not been able to gather any material evidence to substantiate the claims of the NSG. It still begs the question, even if the NIA's version were to be right, as to how the NSG commandoes got injured from the lobbing of a grenade in the first place!

NIA and IB don't necessarily agree with the NSG's version that there were 6 terrorists

Crucially, Rajesh Verma, the jeweller friend of SP Salwinder Singh, briefly kidnapped by the terrorists too maintained that there were only four men though Salwinder Singh himself is supposed to have been unsure if there were four or five terrorists involved.

This particular enquiry hasn't yet been concluded as Salvinder Singh's version still has many loopholes. A call by one of the slain terrorists to Pakistan that was intercepted by the agencies, is also supposed to have mentioned 4 fidayeens in all.

Like in the Ishrant Jahan case, revived once again on account of people in decision making capacities of the time making controversial statements, there seem to be no easy answers here.

Just as we aren't anywhere close to finding out if Ishrat was indeed a LeT operative even after a decade, this might prove to be another wild goose chase for everyone involved as well!

More in Catch - Focus on 'abducted' SP but drug smugglers may hold the key to #Pathankot

The good & the bad of Pathankot operation: from a soldier's viewpoint

First published: 20 March 2016, 11:17 IST