Pakistan-based jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed is countering claims that its leader Maulana Masood Azhar has been arrested for his alleged role in the terror strike on the India's Pathankot airbase in the early hours of 1 January 2016. Azhar, chief of JeM, was reportedly in constant touch with the six terrorists who stormed an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on 1 January and killed seven Indian soldiers.
India and Pakistan have agreed to reschedule talks between their foreign secretaries, the Indian foreign ministry said on Thursday, while an investigation into the Pathankot Attack is carried out.
Pakistani media has reported that JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar, his brother and “several individuals” belonging to his dreaded outfit have been arrested in connection with the Pathankot terror attack. Pakistan media said JeM offices were sealed after India demanded action on the group linking it to the fate of Foreign Secretary-level talks. Some semblance of officialese on the arrest surfaced early on Thursday, with Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, minister of frontier regions, confirming the kingpin's arrest.
"Azhar was taken in protective custody to probe the Pathankot attack," Geo TV quoted Baloch as saying but almost simultaneously, other top officials in Pakistan's foreign ministry continued to deny knowledge of any such arrest, feeding into JeM's online barbs.
“Disbelievers and hypocrites across the world are celebrating our arrest,” a statement in Urdu said, “but the arrest never happened,” reports The Indian Express.
In its online rant, JeM makes its displeasure of the Indo-Pak thaw very clear, calling out Pakistan's government for its "friendship" with Modi, Advani and Vajpayee.
“Even if they happen, what difference will it make? No difference, except one. Allah willing, there will be more enthusiasm and excitement among people of the faith, and the work of jihad will gather more strength and energy,” the statement, posted Thursday on a Facebook page, said. The Indian Express reports that Jaish-e-Mohammed uses this online community to communicate with media and followers.
Azhar warns Pakistan govt
Even as news of his "arrest" broke on local television channels Wednesday night, JeM chief Azhar wrote a piece under his pen name Saadi, warning the Pakistan government about the "dangerous road" it is taking. "The road that the Pakistan government is taking in its crackdown against the JeM is very dangerous for this country and its steps against mosques, madrasas and jihad are a danger to the unity and integrity of Pakistan," Azhar wrote in the Jaish mouthpiece Al Qalam.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif set up a committee of his top intelligence, army and government officers to investigate India's allegations after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to him last week, asking for prompt and decisive action on the basis of specific evidence.
"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," a statement from Sharif's office said.
India, Pakistan reschedule talks, no date yet
India and Pakistan have agreed to reschedule talks between their foreign secretaries, the Indian foreign ministry said on Thursday, while an investigation into a deadly attack on a military base in Pathankot is carried out.
India has demanded action against the Pakistan-based JeM that it suspects of carrying out the attack on the Pathankot air base. Islamabad has held Azhar and other members, sources say.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said New Delhi welcomed the steps taken by Pakistan against the militant group, which was also blamed for a 2001 parliament attack that nearly led to a war between the nuclear-armed rivals.
He said the foreign secretaries of the neighbours spoke on the telephone and decided to defer the talks that had been tentatively scheduled for Friday in Islamabad.
The two diplomats agreed to hold the talks aimed at achieving a thaw in ties in the very near future but no date was announced.
The Pakistani foreign office said a new date had not yet been decided.
"We welcome the statement issued by the government of Pakistan yesterday on the investigations into the Pathankot terrorist attack," Swarup told reporters.
"The statement conveys that considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out against terrorist elements linked to the Pathankot incident."
Seven Indian military personnel were killed in the Jan. 2 attack on the base in the northern state of Punjab, which was followed by a raid on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan that has also been linked to Jaish-e-Mohammad, or the Army of Mohammad.
Pakistan, which India has long accused of backing Islamist militants, promised to investigate who was behind the assault on the air base after India handed over evidence that it said implicated Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Who is Maulana Masood Azhar?
Maulana Masood Azhar was the general secretary of another terror group Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) in 1994 and was on a 'mission' in Jammu and Kashmir when he was arrested on 11 February the same year. When he was released, the HuA had been included in the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations which had compelled the outfit to rename itself as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The Indian Express explains the re-emergence of JeM after years of staying low key.
However, Masood Azhar decided to float the new outfit JeM rather than rejoin his old outfit. He was also reported to have received assistance in setting up the JeM from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the then Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and several Sunni sectarian outfits of Pakistan.
JeM, like other terrorist outfits in J&K, claims to using violence to force a withdrawal of Indian security forces from the state. The outfit claims that each of its offices in Pakistan would serve as schools of jihad. In its fight against India, he boasted that the outfit would not only "liberate" Kashmir, but also would take control of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Amritsar and Delhi.
Masood Azhar, the amir (chief) of the outfit was arrested by Pakistani security forces on December 29, 2001, after pressure from India and other foreign countries following the December 13, 2001 attack on India’s Parliament. However, a three-member Review Board of Lahore High Court ordered on December 14, 2002, that Azhar be released.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jan 15, 2016 11:54:38 IST