Indo-Pak foreign talks to be rescheduled as Islamabad declines to confirm Masood's detention

A Pakistani official on Thursday said that the foreign secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have been rescheduled. The statement comes a day before the talks were supposed to take place, even as Pakistan denied confirmation of the detention of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.

"Mutual consultations are on about rescheduling the talks," Qazi Khalilullah, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a press conference in Islamabad. "The two governments are in touch so that a date can be fixed on foreign secretary-level talks," he added.

Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have been put on hold. AFP

Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan have been put on hold. AFP

The spokesperson did not give any reason for the talks being put on hold but the announcement followed reported Indian demands that the talks can go ahead only if Pakistan acts against terrorists from its soil who plotted the terror attack on the IAF base in Pathankot in Punjab.

On the issue of the arrest of JeM chief Azhar, Khalilullah said, "I am not aware of such arrests."

Condemning Thursday's terror attack in Jakarta, Indonesia, he also said that India and Pakistan need to come together to defeat terrorism. "We have said often terrorism is the common enemy for all. We have to work together to end it," Khalilullah said.

On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had met PM Narendra Modi in the evening to discuss the issue of Foreign Secretary-level talks.

Reports had said on Wednesday that Pakistan had detained Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar, his brother and “several individuals” belonging to his dreaded outfit (which is suspected to have engineered the Pathankot terror attack) and had sealed its offices after India demanded action on the group, linking it to the fate of the foreign secretary-level talks.

While the arrest of several individuals was announced in a press release from the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office, there was no official word on Azhar’s detention until late Wednesday night.

Officials had said Azhar and two other terrorists who were released from an Indian prison in 1999 in exchange for release of 155 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane, had been taken into protective custody after raids on several JeM offices.

On Monday, Pakistani newspaper The News Internationalhad quoted "highly placed diplomatic sources" as saying there had been no information thus far about the visit of the Indian foreign secretary for the 15 January talks in Islamabad.

"It is likely that India would notify the postponement at the eleventh hour some time next week," the daily had said. No communication has taken place between Islamabad and New Delhi on the foreign secretary talks since the Pathankot attack, it had said.

Pakistan does not want the foreign secretary level talks to get derailed as they were expected to pave the way for a comprehensive composite dialogue covering all outstanding disputes including Kashmir, it had added.

(With agency inputs)