A step forward, fingers crossed: JeM chief Masood Azhar, brother detained; group’s offices sealed in Pakistan

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We have no official confirmation of the arrest of Masood Azhar.”

Written by Shubhajit Roy , Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: January 14, 2016 11:01 am
Protesters shout slogans against Masood Azhar and other JeM leaders. (File/Reuters) Protesters shout slogans against Masood Azhar and other JeM leaders. (File/Reuters)

With Pakistan cracking down on the Jaish-e-Muhammad, India said Wednesday that a final decision on the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks will be taken Thursday after National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While there are some indications that the talks may be “delayed” by a “few days or weeks” and will not take place on January 15 as planned, an official announcement is expected Thursday afternoon at the weekly briefing of the Ministry of External Affairs.

Doval, who is in Paris ahead of French President Francois Hollande’s visit to India for the Republic Day, will return to New Delhi around 1.30 pm Thursday and brief the Prime Minister before a decision is taken on talks with Pakistan.

READ: Pathankot terror attack: Terrorists hid overnight in airbase shed

Watch video Pakistan Detains JeM Chief Masood Azhar

READ: Explaining the history of Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad, the mystery of its re-emergence

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met Modi Wednesday night and “discussed some options”, sources told The Indian Express.

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Sources said Doval, who has been in direct touch with Pakistan NSA Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, has been tasked with “assessing” the credibility of the actions taken by the Pakistan establishment against those who plotted the Pathankot attacks. “Only after he gives his assessment, a decision can be arrived at,” a source said. Doval may have a phone conversation with Janjua before he meets the Prime Minister Thursday, sources said.

After Modi’s meeting with Swaraj Wednesday night, a top government source told The Indian Express, “This arrest or detention of Masood Azhar is so far just a report by the Pakistani media. It looks like a trial balloon floated by some quarters.”

Before the meeting, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “We have no official confirmation of the arrest of Masood Azhar.”

Sources pointed out that the new Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Gautam Bambawale had met Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary Wednesday evening after the Pakistan PMO issued its statement on action against the JeM leadership. “But there was no word conveyed about Masood Azhar’s detention or arrest during that meeting,” a source told The Indian Express. Bambawale reached Pakistan Tuesday and is yet to present his credentials.

Sources said that while India has “noted” the statement by the Pakistan PMO on the action against JeM, it was not going to link action against Masood Azhar and the talks. “In that case, one cannot have the talks at all, if he is not arrested,” the source said.

The Indian side, however, took note of the fact that Pakistan has, possibly for the first time, acknowledged that a Pakistan-based terror group was involved in the Pathankot terror attack.

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“The Pakistan PMO’s statement where it has said that ‘considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out against terrorist elements reportedly linked to the Pathankot incident’ is something unprecedented. Usually, and even after the 26/11 terror attacks, there were blanket denials by the establishment. This is a new and positive sign,” a source, dealing with preparations of the FS-level talks, said.

However, sources were circumspect about Pakistan’s proposal to send a Special Investigation Team to Pathankot. “Let the proposal come, and let’s see their mandate… then we will decide. Right now, they appear to be on the right track, although outcomes need to be assessed,” the source said.

As rumours swirled on the detention or arrest of Masood Azhar and his brother Abdul Rauf Azhar, Prime Minister Modi was told that although both men had been summoned to meet with Pakistani intelligence officials in Islamabad, neither faced imminent legal action.

Islamabad has informed New Delhi it has held three low-level operatives linked to the attack, identified as Saad Mughal and Usman Sarwar. As reported by The Indian Express, the two men owned phones used to receive calls from the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase.

Indian intelligence services also reported that the Usman-o-Ali seminary and the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s offices at Model Town in Bahawalpur appeared to be functioning normally, along with camps it uses to train jihadists in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

New Delhi’s caution on the case dates back to past action against Azhar, notably his detention following the attack on Parliament House in December 2001, only to be released by the Lahore High Court without having ever been prosecuted. Pakistan’s then military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had banned the Jaish-e-Muhammad and several other jihadist organisations, but most soon resurfaced inside weeks, using different names.

Following the 26/11 attacks, Pakistan again arrested key perpetrators, but most have since been granted bail as the trial drags on.