JeM chief Masood Azhar in custody, Pakistan's Punjab govt tells media
New Delhi: There seems to be no end to the uncertainty prevailing over confirmation of the detention of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar. Islamabad has given no official confirmation so far of the Jaish chief's arrest or detention. Media outlets, however, have claimed that he has indeed been detained.
In the latest of the flip-flops that have been witnessed on the matter, spokesperson for Pakistan's Punjab government has claimed that Maulana Masood Azhar is indeed in custody at the moment. The commments were made by Zaeem Qadri during a debate that was being aired on Pakistan's ARY news channel.
The admission follows a categorical denial over knowledge of Azhar's arrest by the Pakistani Foreign Office. "I am not aware of any such arrest," Qazi Khalilullah, spokesman of Pakistan's FO, told mediapersons. However, India is treading cautiously on this arrest as there is no official confirmation from Pakistan on Azhar's arrest, over 24 hours after Pakistani media reported it.
Meanwhile, India today confirmed the deferment of its Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan scheduled for January 15, even as it welcomed steps taken by Pakistan in the aftermath of the terror attack on the Pathankot air base earlier this month. India's Ministry of External Affiars today said that the decision has been arrived at mutually by the Foreign Secretaries between both sides.
"Talks between the two sides had been rescheduled for a later date in the very near future," Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for the MEA said at a press conference today, adding that the two foreign secretaries spoke over the phone today to arrive at the decision.
The MEA spokesperson further said that India had taken a positive note of the press statement issued by the Pakistani government regarding the action it has taken in the aftermath of the attack. "We welcome the statement released by the Pakistan government yesterday. We have take account of action taken on Jaish-e-Mohhamad functionaries," he said.
India has also said that it will welcome the Pakistani SIT constituted to probe the Pathankot attack to India. The statement issued by the Pakistani government talked about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituting a Special Investigation Team to look into India's allegations of the involvement of certain individuals and groups in the Pathankot attack. "
We look forward to the Pakistani probe team visiting India. We will extend our full support to them," Swarup said.
India's announcement of postponement of the talks followed an announcement by Pakistan's foreign office confirming that the Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan had been deferred.
“No Foreign Secretary-level talks tomorrow between India and Pakistan. Mutual consultations are on about rescheduling the talks,” Qazi Khalilullah, spokesman of Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement.
Khalilullah also refused to confirm the detention of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar.
"I am not aware of any such arrest," Khalilullah added.
The spokesman didn't give any reason but it followed reported Indian demands that the talks could only go ahead only if Islamabad acts against Pakistani terrorists who plotted the terror attack on the IAF base in Pathankot in Punjab.
Six terrorists who India says were Pakistanis and allied to the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) raided the base on January 2, killing seven security personnel. Security forces killed all the attackers.
India then provided "actionable intelligence" to Pakistan and asked it to crack down against the attack masterminds.
Pakistan announced on Wednesday that it had arrested several JeM activists and sealed its offices. Pakistani media reports later quoted unnamed sources as saying that JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar had been detained.
Khalilullah said terrorism was a common threat and both Pakistan and India should work together to end it.
Meanwhile, India's NSA Ajit Doval is likely to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nasir Janjua in Paris today where the later will brief the former on Islamabad's action against the perpetrators of the Pathankot terror attack.
Sources told India TV that Janjua had yesterday night left for Paris to meet Doval.
Late last evening, India deferred its decision on the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, scheduled for January 15, till Thursday, with reports suggesting that any decision about Friday's meeting will be taken after Doval's return to New Delhi this afternoon.
Doval is expected to brief Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj about Pakistan's action after returning from Paris at around 2:30 pm.
The decision came even as India waited till late Wednesday evening for confirmation on the arrest of Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar, who is believed to have masterminded the terror strike on the Pathankot air base on the intervening night of January 1 and 2.
Sushma Swaraj met PM Modi yesterday to discuss the way forward for the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan. The meeting lasted a little less than two hours. Foreign Secretary S Jaishanker was also present at the meeting.
It was decided at the meeting that the decision on the talks would be taken on Thursday.
India has already made its stand clear that unless Pakistan takes decisive against those responsible for the attack, the Foreign Secretary level talks could not go ahead.
Pakistani media yesterday reported that Azhar, his brother Abdur Rauf and brother-in-law Ashfaq Ahmed have been detained. However, India said it had not received any confirmation from Pakistan.
"We have not received official word on detention of Masood Azhar," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters after a meeting between the EAM minister and Foreign Secretary S Jaishanker.
Moreover, there was no clarity in the Pakistani media reports over Azhar's detention, whether or not he would be arrested and on what charges he would be arrested.
Earlier, Pakistan said it had detained some members of Jaish-e-Mohammed in connection with the Pathankot attack, but did not name those arrested. A statement from Sharif's office said, "Based on the initial investigations in Pakistan, and the information provided, several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, have been apprehended. The offices of the organization are also being traced and sealed. Further investigations are underway."
Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif set up a high-level committee comprising of his top intelligence, army and government officers to investigate India's allegations after Prime Minister Modi spoke to him last week and sought prompt and decisive action on the basis of specific evidence.