India and Pakistan on Thursday mutually agreed to put off talks between their foreign secretaries to the “very near future” as the neighbours tried to cushion their fragile peace process from the fallout of the Pathankot attack.
New Delhi welcomed the apprehension of members of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), blamed for the assault on the Pathankot airbase, and said it looked forward to the visit of a Pakistani special investigation team after foreign secretary S Jaishankar called up his Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary to defer the talks scheduled for Friday.
In a synchronised move, Pakistan’s foreign office too said the talks had been postponed to the “very near future” soon after external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup made the announcement in New Delhi.
Sources said the next ten days were being looked at in the search for a new date for the meeting of the foreign secretaries.
The detention of an unspecified number of JeM members was described by Swarup as an “important and positive first step”. The foreign ministry spokespersons of both sides said there was no information about the detention of JeM chief Masood Azhar.
Officials in Pakistan said Azhar’s location is being kept a secret because of fears of an attack by his supporters to free him.
Swarup said a statement issued by the Pakistan government conveyed that “considerable progress” had been made in investigations against terrorist elements linked to the Pathankot attack.
“We look forward to the visit of the Pakistani special investigation team and our investigation agencies will extend all necessary cooperation to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice,” he said.
Since the brazen attack on the airbase on January 2, just a little more than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore, national security adviser Ajit Doval and his Pakistan counterpart Nasser Janjua have remained in constant touch as both sides looked for ways to keep the peace process alive.
Though Swarup had earlier said the ball is in Pakistan’s court regarding the talks, he was guarded in his response to several questions on Thursday. He said India-Pakistan ties are not a “football game” and parried a query about US President Barack Obama’s description of Pakistan in his State of the Union address as a potential safe haven for terrorists.
He also parried questions about the reported detention of Masood Azhar and the action that India expects Pakistan to take. India, he said, wants action by Pakistan that is “credible and comprehensive and brings to book all the perpetrators of the Pathankot terror attack”.
Pakistan, he noted, had taken “certain positive steps” to maintain the momentum in bilateral ties created by back-to-back visits to the neighbouring country by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.