Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, named by India as the mastermind of the Pathankot attack, has been under “protective custody” since January 14, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz has said.
He also said it was for India to decide on dates for Foreign Secretary-level talks, postponed in the wake of the terror strike.
Aziz said a Special Investigation Team from Pakistan may visit Pathankot in the first few days of March to probe the attack and that his country was pursuing the investigation seriously.
He said one of the mobile phone numbers linked to the attackers was traced to the terror group’s headquarters in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur and called the lodging of the FIR in connection with the Pathankot assault as a “logical and positive step” in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Aziz told Karan Thapar of Headlines Today that Azhar, along with a few other operatives of the JeM, has been kept under protective custody and that some of the terror outfit’s premises have also been sealed. He said action will follow against Azhar and others the moment evidence becomes available.
This is for the first time a top functionary of the Pakistan government has confirmed that Azhar is in custody in that country though there were earlier reports to that effect.
Aziz said the FIR filed four days back in the Pathankot attack case has created legal basis for a Special Investigation Team of Pakistan to visit India to collect evidence. He said India has agreed to the SIT visit.
Asked about Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment that the SIT will not be allowed to go inside the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Aziz said access to crime scene always helps the investigators.
On holding of the Foreign Secretary-level talks between the two countries, Aziz said the “ball is in India’s court”.
“The answer to it lies entirely with India,” he said, adding he hoped prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif would meet on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington next month.
Pakistani authorities had lodged an FIR in connection with the Pathankot attack on February 18, without naming Azhar.
The FIR was filed against “unknown persons” after weeks of probe into the terror assault that had led to the postponement of Foreign Secretary-level talks. It was registered at the Counter-Terrorism Department centre in Gujranwala, Punjab province.
Asked about Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayiba operative David Headley’s revelations about the Mumbai attack during his deposition through video conference to an Indian court, Aziz said he was “a double agent who cannot be trustworthy”.
He rejected suggestions of taking Headley’s version on record in the ongoing trial in the Mumbai attack case in Pakistan.
Aziz said talks between the two countries and the probe into the attack may go on parallel, noting both Modi and Sharif share “very good chemistry”.
Modi’s attempts to improve ties with India have been visible, he said but insisted that more was required to be done to wipe out his earlier image of having a “strong” position on Pakistan.
The two prime ministers should not allow derailment of the talks by non-state actors, he said, adding Modi’s visit to Lahore on December 25 last year was “very well received”.
Favouring resumption of comprehensive bilateral talks as soon as possible, he said India has been held hostage to the “narrative of terrorism” which was unfortunate. He noted that the importance of dialogue is growing by the day.
On Pakistan’s SIT’s visit to India, Aziz said the team will go “as soon as possible”, maybe during the first few days of March.
He said Pakistan was examining all the evidences including the phone numbers given by India in Pathankot attack case and that the NSAs of the two countries are in regular touch.
Aziz said the investigators are also trying to establish links of the perpetrators and weapons used in the attack.
On Siachen, Aziz said Pakistan was for withdrawal of forces by the two sides and has put forth its proposal before India again and claimed both sides were close to an agreement for many years.