Azhar in custody, says Pakistan, puts talks ball in India court
NEW DELHI: Pakistan has confirmed that Masood Azhar, the chief of JeM which carried out the Pathankot attack, is in its “protective custody”. Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s adviser Sartaj Aziz told a news channel that Azhar has been in custody since January 14 in what is the first official confirmation of his detention by Islamabad.
Pakistan, which wants an early dialogue between the foreign secretaries, is hoping the confirmation would soothe nerves here. This is even as Islamabad continues to pedal the Kashmir issue hard, even demanding that India should not prevent Hurriyat leaders from travelling abroad.
While Pakistan has in the past been content with issuing statements on India’s handling of J&K, Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit last week sought time with foreign secretary S Jaishankar to raise the issue of detention of Hurriyat leaders and alleged human rights violations in the state.
As TOI had first reported on Saturday, Basit had called for early talks between the foreign secretaries during the meeting. Sources, however, said on Monday that the main agenda of the meeting was to reiterate Pakistan’s position that the J&K issue needed to be resolved in accordance with “UN resolutions and aspirations of the people of the state”. Sources said Hurriyat leaders had earlier met Basit and asked him to take up their concerns over the situation in J&K with india.
Aziz also confirmed that phone numbers provided by India to Pakistan as leads had been traced to JeM headquarters in Bahawalpur. He said only one of these numbers was found active. Indian officials though said they would wait for Pakistan to directly confirm to them that Azhar had been detained.
While Pakistan wants to focus on Kashmir in the foreign secretary meeting, which is meant to finalize modalities for the comprehensive bilateral dialogue (CBD), Indian officials said they would insist on progress in both 26/ 11 and Pathankot investigations in the meeting.
A day after the Jaishankar-Basit meeting, Pakistan filed an FIR in the Pathankot case but did not name anyone. Aziz though said it was only the first FIR and that subsequent ones would have names.
In his interview to Karan Thapar from India Today channel, Aziz said the ball was in India’s court now as far as the dates for the talks were concerned. Aziz said that agencies in Pakistan had told the government that Azhar was in custody. He expressed hope that both SIT visit and foreign secretary talks can take place simultaneously later February or early next month.
Aziz made another point in the interview when he said the Pakistan SIT, which wants to visit India for Pathankot investigations, will need access to some parts of the Pathankot airbase, a sticking point for India. Defence minister Manohar Parikkar, in fact, has already declared that India won’t allow any access to the airbase.
While Mumbai accused David Headly, in a deposition from the US, blamed Pakistan agencies for the attack, Aziz dismissed it saying he had no credibility as he was a double agency and a drug peddler. On Hafiz Saeed, another Mumbai mastermind, Aziz said there was no evidence against him.
Aziz also said that Pakistan was sequencing its fight against terror by first targeting TTP and other internal groups and then LeT and Jaish. However, he added that while the NSAs remained in touch, India seemed to be obsessed with terror. According to Aziz, Pakistan will also propose troop withdrawal from Siachen.