Pathankot attack: Pakistan confirms JeM chief's arrest, decision on foreign secretary talks likely today

Even as Pakistan began cracking down on terror network Jaish e Mohammed, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met Narendra Modi late Wednesday evening to figure out how to play the foreign secretary level talks. A decision on on this is likely to be taken Thursday at the weekly briefing of the External Affairs Ministry and after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval returns from Paris. The Indian Express reports that this decision will surface after Doval meets Modi. Doval is likely to touch down in New Delhi at 1.30 pm Thursday.

Pakistani media has reported that Jaish-e-Mohammad 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 have been sealed after India demanded action on the group linking it to the fate of Foreign Secretary-level talks. Official word on the arrest surfaced in the early hours of 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.

Pathankot attack: Pakistan confirms JeM chiefs arrest, decision on foreign secretary talks likely today

File photo of Maulana Masood Azhar. Reuters

Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of the Pakistan based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed was in constant touch with the six terrorists who stormed an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in the early hours of 1 January and killed seven Indian soldiers.

Jaishankar is supposed to travel to Islamabad on Friday for foreign secretary level talks which are now in limbo. Modi had put Pakistan on a 72 hour deadline to deliver on India's intelligence input on the Pathankot attack. Most media reports say the foreign secretary level talks may be pushed out a bit from the scheduled 15 January date.

BBC News reports that up until now, no action has been reported against the group's two major seminaries in Bahawalpur which, many say, serve as the group's headquarters. "There's a sense that some low-level operatives of the group may have been picked up - this is likely to deflect international criticism in the short run, and may save the upcoming talks," says BBC.

India has said that unless Pakistan takes strong against those responsible for the attack, the Foreign Secretary level talks could not go ahead at this time. However sources insist they are not linking the talks to Azhar's detention, reports BBC.

Azhar warns Pakistan govt

As news of his arrest broke on local television channels, JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar wrote a piece under his pen name Saidi, warning the Pakistan government about the "dangerous road" it is taking. "The road that the Pakistan government is taking in its crackdown against the Jaish-e-Mohammed 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, reports The Indian Express.

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.

Maulana Masood Azhar detained, says Pak media

Pakistan on Wednesday arrested 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 sealed its offices after India demanded action on the group linking it to the fate of Foreign Secretary-level talks.

Azhar’s brother Abdul Rehman Rauf has also been arrested, Geo TV said.

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

Officials said Azhar, the dreaded terrorist 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, has been taken into protective custody after raids on several JeM offices.

Pakistan has also said it’s considering sending a special investigation team to Pathankot as more information would be required to carry forward the process of cooperation with India. The Pakistani action, which was reviewed at a high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, come as the fate of the FS-level talks scheduled for Friday hung in balance with just two days for Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to go to Islamabad for talks with his counterpart on resuming the bilateral dialogue process.

India has handed over to Pakistan information on JeM links in the Pathankot terror attack  in which seven security personnel were killed. A PMO statement issued after the meeting today said it noted with satisfaction Pakistan’s commitment to eliminate terrorism from its soil and the expressed national resolve not to allow the territory to be used for acts of terrorism anywhere.

In the spirit of the cooperative approach, the statement said, it was also decided that in order to carry the process forward, additional information would be required for which the government of Pakistan is considering sending a SIT to Pathankot in consultation with government of India. “The meeting reiterated that in line with our decision to counter and completely eliminate terrorism, Pakistan would remain engaged with India on this issue,” the statement said.

Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, Director-General ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and other senior officials attended the meeting. Last week India put the ball squarely in Pakistan’s court, linking the FS-level talks to Islamabad’s “prompt and decisive” action in the Pathankot terror attack for which it has provided “actionable intelligence”.

An official said that close to a dozen militants have been held so far and were being questioned. He refused to give further information like where they have been held or when they could be produced before any court. In the terror attack on Pathankot Air Force base that began on January 2, six militants were also eliminated in an operation that lasted four days.

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 Agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 14, 2016 10:52:24 IST

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