Suspense over scheduled talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan lingered on Wednesday with New Delhi waiting for Islamabad to officially announce action on the Jaish-e-Mohammad, blamed for the Pathankot airbase attack.
Sources said the dialogue slated for January 15 hangs in the balance but the government is expected to make an announcement on Thursday.
“We need to verify the action Pakistan has taken on the basis of the statement they made on Wednesday,” sources said after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.
PTI said late on Wednesday night quoting officials that a decision on the talks was deferred till the return of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval from Paris.
The JeM was blamed by Indian authorities for the brazen assault on the Pathankot airbase, which killed seven security personnel. India has sought “prompt and decisive action” by Pakistan on actionable intelligence regarding the attack.
The immediate stumbling block seems to be the reported preventive custody of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and some of his aides with no official confirmation coming from Pakistan.
The news, which some sources said could be “misleading”, played out in the Indian media, raising expectation levels.
“Our decision will be based on the objective action Pakistan has taken in this regard as enunciated in a press release by them,” said a source.
A release from the Pakistan prime minister’s office had said, “Considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident.”
Based on initial investigations in Pakistan and the information provided by India, several individuals belonging to JeM have been apprehended and the offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed, said the statement.
The same release had said that in the “spirit of the cooperative approach, it was also decided that in order to carry the process forward, additional information would be required, for which the Government of Pakistan is considering to send a Special Investigation Team to Pathankot, in consultation with the Government of India.”
Azhar’s brother Mufti Abdur Rauf and his brother-in-law Ashfaq Ahmed were detained along with him on Monday, Reuters quoted two unnamed officials as saying.
“We will keep them for as long as we need to carry out our investigation over India’s claims about the attack. We are resolved to take this investigation to its conclusion,” a senior intelligence told Reuters.
Azhar formed the JeM after being freed from an Indian prison with two other militants in exchange for an Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar in 2000. The group was banned in 2002 but continues to be active in several areas, including Punjab province and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The report of Azhar’s detention came soon after Pakistan said it wants to send a special team to India to investigate the attack on the Pathankot airbase, for which an unspecified number of JeM operatives had been “apprehended”.
Following a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the government announced it had also begun tracing and sealing the offices of the JeM.
Pakistan was apparently spurred to act following pressure from the US and India and was appeared to be aimed at salvaging a planned meeting of the foreign secretaries on January 15. India has linked the talks to action against perpetrators of the Pathankot attack.
The meeting chaired by Sharif, also attended by army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, noted that “considerable progress” had been made in the drive against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident.
The actions taken by Pakistan were reminiscent of its moves in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, carried out by a 10-member LeT squad.
Following pressure from the world community, the government had placed Hafiz Saeed and other leaders under house arrest and sealed offices of the LeT and its front organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawah.
Within six months, they were freed and the LeT resumed its activities after changing its name.
(With agency inputs from Islamabad)