ISLAMABAD: The government said on Wednesday that it had started a crackdown on the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which had been accused by India of being involved in the attack on the Pathankot airbase.

The announcement came after a national security meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which was convened to discuss the actions taken on the leads provided by India.

“Based on initial investigations in Pakistan and the information provided, several individuals belonging to JeM have been apprehended. The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed. Further investigations are under way,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The decision to act against JeM was taken to salvage the coming foreign secretaries’ meeting that had been linked by India to action against the alleged Pathankot mastermind and handlers. Additionally, there was US pressure on Islamabad to act against suspects to prevent the recently initiated re-engagement process with India from being derailed.

A spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday night that they still had no official confirmation of Masood Azhar’s arrest.

Later, the Press Trust of India reported that India had deferred until Thursday a decision on whether to go ahead with the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Sharif had, in his conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Secretary of State John Kerry, assured them that action would be taken against elements whose involvement was proven.

Although there were no specifics as to when the arrests were made, who had been detained, which agency was leading the operation against JeM and how many individuals had been taken into custody so far, government sources told media that the group’s founder Maulana Masood Azhar, his brother and certain other members of the outfit had been taken into “protective custody” and not formally arrested.

This was done, it is said, because there were neither criminal cases against them in Pakistan, nor was there any evidence to institute one.

Regarding the evidence supplied by New Delhi, a government official told Dawn that India was being asked to provide proof that could withstand legal scrutiny.

The statement on the national security meeting, meanwhile, 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 to send a special investigation team to Pathankot, in consultation with the government of India.”

It further said: “The meeting reiterated that in line with our decision to counter and completely eliminate terrorism, Pakistan would remain engaged with India on this issue.”

Later on Wednesday night, PM Sharif constituted a committee to investigate the Indian allegations. The joint investigation team, consisting of security officials, will be led by the Additional Inspector General of Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Rai Tahir. Other members will be CTD Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Additional IG Salahuddin Khan, Intelligence Bureau Lahore Director Azeem Arshad,

FIA Lahore Director Dr Usman Anwar, Brig Noman Saeed from ISI and Lt-Col Irfan Mirza from MI.

Fate of talks

India will take a decision on the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan after the return of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval from Paris on Thursday.

According to Time of India, Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the status of Pakistani probe into the Pathankot terror attack late on Wednesday evening.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar met Ms Swaraj and informed her about developments.

India has linked the future of the talks to action taken by Islamabad against those responsible for the Pathankot terror attack.

However, MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters on Wednesday night that there was no official confirmation about detention of Masood Azhar, the man accused by India of being the mastermind of the attack.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2016