Hope brightened for India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks, slated for Friday, after the arrest of "some suspects" on Monday, involved in the Pathankot terror attack by agencies in Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also set up a high-level joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the attack.
The mood in the external affairs ministry and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was that the talks were likely to take place in Islamabad on schedule after Monday's developments. The details of the arrests made in Pakistan of "suspects" in the Pathankot terror attack were still unclear. South Block as well as BJP sources pointed out it was a diplomatic victory for New Delhi that Islamabad had accepted the Pathankot terror attack was launched from its territory.
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In the evening, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met Home Minister Rajnath Singh for a 20-minute meeting. The two discussed the developments since the terror attack of January 2, including India having shared evidence with Pakistan that claimed the attack was planned by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, and his brother Rauf.
In a related development, India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval denied he had told a news website that the foreign secretary-level talks had been called off because of the failure of Pakistan to take prompt and decisive action on the leads provided by India. The foreign secretary-level talks would decide the modalities of the "comprehensive bilateral dialogue" process that Swaraj and her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz decided to restart last month.
According to a PTI report from Islamabad, law enforcement agencies picked up "some suspects" connected to the Pathankot airbase attack from Bahawalpur district, the hometown of Azhar. Intelligence officials in Islamabad claimed raids were carried out in Gujranwala, Jhelum and Bahawalpur districts and an unspecified number of people were arrested. Nudged by the US to act against the perpetrators of the Pathankot terror attack, Prime Minister Sharif set up the JIT to probe leads provided by India.
Apart from Azhar and Rauf, India has identified five others to be behind the attack that left all six terrorists and seven Indian soldiers dead. It also provided a telephone number in Pakistan contacted by the airbase attackers and had given other inputs. At a seminar organised by the army in New Delhi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday any individual or organisation causing pain to India should be paid back in the same coin but how, when and where "should be of our choice".
Azhar runs a seminary - Usman-au-Ali - in Bahawalpur, some 400 km from Lahore. It currently has 700 students. "No raid has been conducted in the seminary related to the Pathankot incident," a police officer in the district said. Aziz, advisor to the Pakistan PM on foreign affairs, said the talks were "intact" as "Pakistan was investigating the Pathankot incident".
The BJP is somewhat struggling to convince its support base about its Pakistan strategy, but party sources said talks were on schedule unless another terror incident took place between now and Friday.