India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-Level Talks Delayed

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As expected, the Foreign Secretary (FS)-level talks between India and Pakistan did not take place as scheduled on Friday. Islamabad announced on Thursday that the two South Asian neighbours deferred their talks in the wake of uncertainty created by the recent terror attack on the Pathankot air base.

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At the same time, the two neighbouring countries made it clear that the Indo-Pak peace process is on track and Islamabad and New Delhi would never allow terrorists to set the agenda. The top political leaderships of the two countries believe that the answer to Pathankot does not lie in breaking off talks, but in punishing the perpetrators promptly.

Speaking at a press conference in the Pakistani capital on Thursday night, senior spokesperson of Pak Foreign Office Qazi Khalilullah said that Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar would visit Islamabad later, as the two countries planned to reschedule the talks. India welcomed Khalilullah’s announcement, saying that the delayed dialogue offered Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the time to act on Pathankot.

However, the Pakistani official did not confirm the arrest of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, who masterminded the attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF) base. Asked about the detention of Azhar, Khalilullah stressed: “I am not aware of any such arrest. I don’t have anything else apart from the statement issued by the PMO yesterday.”

On Wednesday, the Office of Prime Minister Sharif had issued a statement, saying that “several individuals”, belonging to the Pakistan-based terror outfit, were apprehended in connection with the Pathankot terror attack. The PMO also said that the JeM chief would be shifted to a detention centre in Lahore amid fears that his supporters could launch an attack to free him. Soon after the Pak PMO issued the statement, spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup stressed that New Delhi was yet to receive any official information about the detention of Azhar. However, he hailed Pakistan’s action on JeM, saying that although Azhar’s “protective custody” should not be considered as a giant leap for Indo-Pak relations, India welcomed the action taken by the Pakistani authorities.

Meanwhile, both Khalilullah and Swarup hinted that their national security advisers (NSAs) may meet before the FS-level talks. The Indian official also welcomed Pakistan’s decision to send a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe Pathankot attack, saying: “We look forward to the visit of the Pakistani SIT and our investigative agencies will extend all necessary co-operation to bring the perpetrators of this attack (Pathankot) to justice.” If SIT does arrive in Pathankot, it will be the first time when India and Pakistan jointly investigate a terror attack directed from Pakistan in India. And the probe will continue alongside official dialogue.

The Indian government further denied media reports that NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Nasir Janjua have met in a third country. According to New Delhi, Doval is in touch with Janjua, as it is important for them to remain in touch in order to save the bilateral peace process.

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