'The Modi government can't ignore the political symbolism that the perceived perpetrators are being allowed inside an Indian military base which was attacked by their puppets, either by tacit approval or compliance of the Pakistani military establishment,' says Rajeev Sharma.
Pakistan's Special Investigation Team is to visit India very soon to probe the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase. The million dollar question is whether the Narendra Modi government, currently smoking the peace pipe with the recalcitrant neighbour, will allow the SIT access to the airbase.
Going by the current India-Pakistan bonhomie at the highest political levels and the fact that the two countries' prime ministers are likely to meet on March 31 in Washington on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, the answer may well be in the affirmative. This would be a politically incorrect move on part of the Modi government and have adverse strategic implications.
Modi is likely to go by whatever advice his National Security Advisor Ajit Doval offers on this vexed question. Doval is a quintessential intelligence czar, someone who has spent his entire career safeguarding Indian national interests from Pakistan's Machiavellian designs.
No one can travel into the mind of the seasoned NSA at this point of time, but his past track record would make it highly unlikely that he would let the Pakistani SIT set foot inside the Pathankot base, which was attacked by non-State actors with suspected help from Pakistan's State actors.
Pathankot is no ordinary airbase. It is a frontline Indian military base, responsible for launching the bulk of air operations against Pakistan in the event of war. Doval cannot possibly ignore this operational fact.
Moreover, when Doval was director of the Intelligence Bureau a little over a decade ago, he was in the forefront of top officials refusing to share with Pakistan dossiers of tell-tale evidence of Pakistan's involvement in terror attacks in India despite massive international pressure.
His logic was that there was no point sharing such dossiers with Pakistan because these would be used by Pakistan to find loopholes in their mistakes and prepare better for the next attacks rather than help India.
The same argument applies in this context when the Pakistan SIT arrives in India for ostensibly a joint probe into the Pathankot attack.
The National Investigation Agency has reportedly informed the government that it is not against the Pakistan SIT visiting Pathankot. The Modi government has to take a final call on the subject on parameters which go far beyond the NIA's brief and jurisdiction.
The NIA's reported logic for not opposing the Pakistan SIT visiting the Pathankot airbase is that the area of operation -- where the four terrorists were gunned down and the airmen's billet was blown up -- are located at the periphery of the airbase; the defence installations are located way inside. As per this logic, it is highly unlikely that the airbase's security will be compromised.
This argument won't hold ground when the government decides if the Pakistan SIT should be allowed to enter the Pathankot airbase.
The Modi government cannot be oblivious to public perceptions and moods. It cannot afford to ignore the political symbolism that the perceived perpetrators are being allowed inside an Indian military base which was attacked by their puppets, either by tacit approval or compliance of the Pakistani military establishment.
Whichever way one looks at it and irrespective of whatever is being planned diplomatically at the highest levels between the two governments, the Modi government would commit a serious blunder by allowing the Pakistan SIT access to the Pathankot airbase, even if the visit was to its periphery.
If that were to happen, the Modi government would offer its head to the Opposition parties on a platter. Most importantly, it would risk its much flaunted nationalistic image.
The stakes are really huge and the Modi government cannot be unmindful of these.
Rajeev Sharma is an independent journalist and strategic analyst who tweets @kishkindha