Indo-Pak Foreign-Secretary talks set for delay; NSAs may meet first

Final decision in a day or two as New Delhi is not willing to call off the entire peace process.

New Delhi: The India-Pakistan peace process may take a hit as the foreign secretary-level talks are unlikely to take place at the end of this week as planned. New Delhi, which is not willing to call off the entire peace process, is, however, preparing to halt the talks for now till the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad takes action against the perpetrators of the Pathankot terror siege.

Sources said a final decision will be announced in a day or two. Home minister Rajnath Singh met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and national security adviser Ajit Doval separately on Monday and discussed the Pathankot siege and the dossier shared with Pakistan. Mr Doval is learnt to have shared all vital leads with Pakistan on the attack, and New Delhi is awaiting action by the Nawaz Sharif government on the Jaish-e-Mohammed handlers in Pakistan, including its chief Maulana Masood Azhar, who roams freely on Pakistani soil.

The Foriegn-Secretary level talks were scheduled forJanuary 15.The Foreign-Secretary level talks were scheduled for January 15.

The home minister is learnt to have told Ms Swaraj that India’s anti-terror pitch to Pakistan “needs to be very strong” after New Delhi put the ball in Pakistan’s court, sharing evidence to prove that the attack was sponsored by Pakistan-based terror outfits.

There is also speculation that the NSAs of the two nations may meet first, possibly in a third country, to discuss the evidence on the Pathankot attack and cross-border terror linkages to Pakistan before the FS-level talks take place.

Further, there is a possibility that Pakistan could ask for more time to crack down on perpetrators functioning from its soil. If Pakistan seeks more time to act on leads given by India, New Delhi could consider postponing the talks for a few days to enable Pakistan to deliver on its promise of fighting terror.

Read: Pathankot attack: Talks possible only if Pak takes action, says Ajit Doval

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“At a time when Pakistan is seen to be doing something on the leads, outright cancellation of the talks may not be possible. But India expects Pakistan to take a big step in the crackdown of those responsible for the Pathankot terror attack. Till that time, it will be difficult for India to hold the talks,” an observer remarked.

The National Investigation Agency on Monday refused to give a clean chit to Punjab SP Salwinder Singh “as yet” in the Pathankot terror probe after he was questioned at the NIA headquarters in New Delhi till late Monday evening, and his questioning was expected to continue again on Tuesday. The SP is learnt to have been unable to give a clear picture of the sequence of events with his statement having contradictions. The NIA also plans to question the SP’s cook-cum-helper Madan Gopal in new Delhi and has issued summons to him. If required, both Mr Singh and Gopal will be confronted, a senior MHA official said. The NIA is yet to decide whether Mr Salwinder Singh will be an accused or a witness in the case.

Mr Singh had claimed he was abducted while travelling with his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and cook-cum-helper Madan Gopal in a personal vehicle which was hijacked and later used by the terrorists on the night of December 31. While Mr Verma was left bleeding with a cut below his throat by the terrorists, the other two were abducted.

On Monday morning, the home minister’s meeting with Mr Doval followed the daily security review meeting with the chiefs of intelligence agencies. Top sources said while the Pathankot counter-terror “operation” overseen by Mr Doval was successful and resulted in minimum damage — the twin concerns of the home minister are how the airbase became so “vulnerable” that terrorists could enter and the “time lapse” in the sanitisation and mopping-up exercise that could have been minimised with a more incisive response.

The NIA moved to secure a “black corner notice” from Interpol (used to identify unidentified bodies) to ascertain the identity of the four bodies of terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase. It is also preparing to approach Interpol to issue “blue corner” notices for the missing persons, if any. The NIA has also sent some body tissues of slain terrorists to CFSL to collect DNA samples and to ascertain their identities.

During its questioning of the Punjab SP, the NIA is trying to join the dots about his visit to the shrine along with Gopal and Mr Verma, who were visiting the shrine for the second time the day the attack took place .The NIA has recorded the statement of the caretaker of the shrine, who is related to the cook, who confirmed to the sleuths that Gopal and Mr Verma had come in the morning of December 31 and again in the evening, claiming he was not aware of the reason for his visit to the shrine twice, official sources said.

The NIA had recorded his statement in Pathankot but he has been asked to come on January 13 as his statements are also contradictory in nature, sources said. A 10-member NIA team is, meanwhile, continuing search operations in Punjab and has already recovered a AK-47 magazine, a mobile phone and binoculars from the IAF base in Pathankot.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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