New Delhi: As combing operations continue on Wednesday to sanitise the Pathankot Air Force base, a security expert today blamed Pakistan`s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, for the attack in Punjab.
According to Bruce Riedel, the attack was an attempt to prevent any détente between New Delhi and Islamabad after Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s surprise `Christmas Day` visit to Lahore.
Riedel said the attack was the work of the Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad, which was created 15 years ago by the Pakistani intelligence service. Notably, the Indian agencies have shared the details of the masterminds of Pathankot attack with with Pakistan.
"JeM was created in 2000 by Mualana Masoud Azhar... Azhar was captured in India in 1994 after taking western hostages in Kashmir. In December 1999, a group of terrorists hijacked an Air India jet flying from Nepal to India and diverted it to Afghanistan. They demanded the release of Azhar and his colleagues in return for the passengers and crew," Riedel wrote for The Daily Beast.
"And they got it, thanks to help from the Pakistani intelligence service ISI and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to accounts of the hijacking based on the Indian officials who negotiated with the terrorists for the hostages` freedom," he said.
Riedel said the JeM has received training and weapons from the ISI and worked closely with al Qaeda.
He also elaborated on how the Pakistani Army has long distrusted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for advocating the improved relations with India since the 1990s.
"An Army coup in 1999 sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia for a decade. His warm embrace of Modi on Christmas Day in his home in Lahore undoubtedly angered the generals," he said.
Prime Minister Modi`s visit was the first by an Indian prime minister in more than a decade. It was also Sharif`s birthday and the birthday of Pakistan`s founder Muhammad Jinnah.
He said the ISI is under the generals' command and is composed of Army officers, so the spies are controlled by the Pakistani Army, which justifies its large budget and nuclear weapons program by citing the Indian menace.
"Any diminution in tensions with India might risk the Army's lock on its control of Pakistan's national security policy. The Army continues to distinguish between 'good'
terrorists like JeM and LtT and 'bad' terrorists like the Pakistani Taliban, despite decades of lectures from American leaders," he said.
He noted that the US put JeM on the terrorist sanctions list years ago, but it continues to coddle the Pakistani Army.
"Gen Raheel Sharif, the Army's boss, got a warm embrace from the Pentagon last fall, despite the ISI support for the Afghan Taliban's offensive against the Kabul government and despite the Pakistani military's backing of terror groups like JeM," he said.
"So far New Delhi has not cancelled the planned talks. Modi`s advisers are well aware of the double game the Pakistani Army plays and the differences inside the Pakistani establishment... The Indians have accepted Prime Minister Sharif`s public condemnation of the attack and promised to provide evidence of JeM`s role to his government, including cellphones captured in the attack," he added.
Bruce Riedel has worked in the National Security Council of the White House and was among the few present at the Bill Clinton-Nawaz Sharif meeting in 1999 during Kargil war.
(With Agency inputs)