New Delhi/Islamabad: Saving the spirit of the Lahore meeting between the two Prime Ministers, India and Pakistan on Thursday mutually agreed to postpone the foreign secretary-level talks to the “very near future”, while India welcomed, as positive and constructive, Pakistan’s announcement Wednesday of a crackdown on terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed. India also welcomed Pakistan’s move to send a Special Investigation Team to Pathankot and promised to “extend all necessary cooperation”.
New Delhi, however, reiterated that it had not heard from Islamabad on any detention or arrest of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar while the Pakistan foreign office too said it was “not aware” of any such detention or arrest. Sources in New Delhi said India wanted to be seen as supporting the action so far by Pakistan against JeM, while at the same time making it clear it expects more action. The NSAs of the two countries “are also in constant touch” over action against those responsible for the Pathankot incident. Both countries appear keen to retain the spirit of Mr Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore on Christmas Day. The two foreign secretaries also spoke on the telephone Thursday before the announcement of the “rescheduling” of talks was made. India seems to have realised Pakistan needs to be given some more time to act fully on its promise of fighting terror before the FS-level talks are actually held.
The MEA conceded that after the Pathankot terror strike, the dialogue process between the two countries had been “in danger” but quickly added that “certain positive measures” were taken by Pakistan. Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar was originally due to travel to Islamabad on Friday. Sources said the term “very near future” could mean a few days to even a few weeks.
Sources said “something” has changed in Pakistan after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on December 25 and that even Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif was part of the meeting chaired by Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif after which the crackdown on JeM was announced. New Delhi feels it should support Islamabad at this stage and encourage it to take more steps as part of the crackdown instead of publicly making the detention or arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar as a precondition for the talks. Sources noted that Pakistan was “not in denial mode” like it used to be earlier, indicating there was some desire on its part to change. Sources also said no specific assurances on Maulana Masood Azhar had been furnished by Pakistan to India, but there seem some signals that Islamabad will take more steps in fulfilment of its pledge to combat terror.
“The action taken against JeM is an important and positive first step. We also note that the government of Pakistan is considering sending a Special Investigation Team to investigate the Pathankot terror attack. We look forward to the visit of the Pakistani SIT and our investigative agencies will extend all necessary cooperation to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice,” MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup said. “We are looking for credible and comprehensive action to bring all the perpetrators of the Pathankot terror attack to justice,” he added. Asked why the talks were deferred when India welcomed the Pakistani action against JeM, Mr Swarup said the foreign secretaries felt some more time was required before they meet “away from the shadow” of the investigations into the terror strike. Reiterating that both nations have agreed to hold FS-level talks in the “very near future”, the MEA spokesman commented in jest: “Miyan biwi raazi, toh kya karega Qazi?” (When the husband and wife agree, what can the priest or cleric do?)
Mr Swarup said the dialogue process, which was started with the NSAs meeting in Bangkok and continued with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s islamabad visit, and then got lot of impetus as a result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brief Lahore visit, had been in “danger” due to the terrorist attack in Pathankot but indicated that the Lahore spirit had been saved.
“I think certain positive measures have now been taken to ensure that we continue that momentum and the fact that the two foreign secretaries have agreed to reschedule through mutual agreement their meeting is a very positive indication,” he said. The spokesman added that the action by Pakistan was “in line” with its own commitment to get rid of terrorism. Asked if the Pakistani SIT will be given access to the Pathankot airbase, Mr Swarup said those modalities had to be worked out between the investigative agencies of the two countries.
Despite no evidence to confirm earlier Pakistani reports that Maulana Masood Azhar had actually been detained or arrested, India has not, publicly at least, linked the arrest or detention of the JeM chief to the holding of FS-level talks as it feels such a move would be counter-productive, particularly when Pakistan has officially announced it is taking action against JeM members. But even as India has welcomed the Pakistani action against JeM, there were indications it will not go by “empty statements” and wants to see substantial action on the ground.
In Islamabad, Pakistan did not say whether the JeM chief had been detained or arrested. Questioned on Pakistani media reports that Masood Azhar had been detained or arrested, Pakistan foreign office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said: “I am not aware of any such arrest... I have no such information. I don’t have anything else apart from the statement issued by the PMO yesterday.” He also added that the FS-level talks would not take place as planned on Friday.
According to some reports from Pakistan, the authorities there raided a “madrasa” (seminary) run by the JeM in Sialkot and seized jihadi literature and books. Officials there said 20-25 people were being questioned by the law enforcement machinery....