Pakistani authorities have detained an unspecified number of suspects purportedly linked to the Pathankot attack from the Bahawalpur region, the main base of JeM founder Masood Azhar, even as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the creation of a joint investigation team to probe the incident.
The detention of the suspects was reported by Pakistani news channel ARY on Monday but there was no confirmation from police in Bahawalpur. The channel reported the suspects were picked up on the basis of information provided by India.
Intelligence officials in Islamabad told PTI an unspecified number of people were arrested during raids in Gujranwala, Jhelum and Bahawalpur districts. The ongoing probe will ascertain if these people were “involved in the attack or some of them facilitated it”, the unnamed officials were quoted as saying.
Sources in Islamabad said the detentions were made over the past few days though it was not clear if any of the people were members of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, blamed by Indian officials for the attack on Pathankot airbase that killed seven security personnel.
In the face of pressure from the US and India for a speedy probe, Prime Minister Sharif ordered the formation of a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising officials from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence to examine the links of the attackers to Pakistan.
Sharif is “taking an active role in getting to the bottom of the Pathankot incident”, a source in the Prime Minister’s House was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune. Sharif discussed the issue with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and “took him on board about the decision to form a JIT”, the source added.
“This investigation will be a major test of the prime minister to move Pakistan-India relationship forward and to break the cycle of off-again on-again talks between the two neighbours,” the source said.
India has linked planned talks between the foreign secretaries in Islamabad on January 15 to “prompt and decisive action” by Pakistan. National security adviser Ajit Doval told the media India “will talk only if Pakistan takes action”, refuting a report that quoted him as saying the talks had been “cancelled”.
Indian officials have said the “actionable intelligence” shared with Pakistan includes Pakistani telephone numbers that were called by the attackers.
However, Geo News channel reported on Monday that the phone numbers provided by India were “not registered in Pakistan”. It quoted its sources as saying that Pakistani authorities had completed their initial investigation into the information provided by New Delhi and handed over the findings to their Indian counterparts.
The channel reported investigative agencies were carrying out “further investigation”.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met home minister Rajnath Singh on Monday against the backdrop of uncertainty about talks between the foreign secretaries. There was no official word on the meeting but sources said the Pathankot incident figured in the agenda.
(With agency inputs)