India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks rescheduled for ‘near future’ (Roundup)

New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, who were to hold talks in Islamabad on Friday, mutually agreed on Thursday to reschedule the talks to a date in the “very near future” as New Delhi welcomed Islamabad’s statement on the investigations into the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase.

“Foreign secretary (S. Jaishankar) spoke to his Pakistani counterpart (Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry) today. They agreed to reschedule their talks in the very near future,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said at a media briefing here.

India and Pakistan on December 9 decided to start a comprehensive bilateral dialogue after a meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the Pakistan prime minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaz Aziz in Islamabad.

This came about after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a seemingly impromptu meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at the Paris climate summit on November 30 which was followed by a meeting between the national security advisors of the two countries in Bangkok on December 6.

With Modi later making a surprise stopover in Lahore on his way back to New Delhi from Kabul on Christmas day for Sharif’s birthday and his grand daughter’s wedding, there was a new thaw in relations between the two south Asian neighbours and talks between the two foreign secretaries were tentatively scheduled for January 15 as part of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue.

But a cross-border terror attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on January 2 — believed to be carried out by the Bahawalpur-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — that killed 13 people, including seven Indian security personnel, sparked speculations about the possibility of the talks.

Sharif called Modi from Sri Lanka on January 5 and the latter sought “firm and immediate action against the organisations and individuals responsible for and linked to” the Pathankot attack.

On his part, the Pakistani prime minister promised to take “prompt and decisive” action against the perpetrators of the attack.

Swarup on Thursday said India welcomed “the statement issued by the government of Pakistan yesterday (Wednesday) on the investigations into the Pathankot terrorist attack”.

“The statement conveys that considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out against terrorist elements linked to the Pathankot incident,” he said.

“We note the apprehension of Jaish-e-Mohammad members. The action taken against Jaish-e-Mohammad is an important and positive first step.”

Later, answering a question, Swarup said the Indian government was not aware whether JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar has been arrested.

When asked why the foreign secretary-level talks were rescheduled if India welcomed the action taken by Pakistan, Swarup said both sides have mutually agreed that more time was needed to prepare for the talks.

He said India noted that the Pakistan government was considering to send a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate the Pathankot attack.

“We look forward to the visit of the Pakistani SIT and our investigative agencies will extend all necessary cooperation to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice,” he said.

Asked if India would give more evidence after having given actionable evidence if Pakistan sought it, Swarup said since the Pakistani SIT was being welcomed, then more evidence, if available, would surely be handed over.

Swarup also said that National Security Advisors Ajit Doval of India and Nasir Janjua of Pakistan were in regular touch with each other.

Asked whether the Indian government thought that this time Pakistan was serious about bringing the Pathankot attackers to book unlike in the case of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, he said: “We will go by what objective evidence we see on the ground. We are not going to go by empty statements. So far, what Pakistan has done we have welcomed and we hope they will continue with these efforts.”

Earlier on Thursday, Pakistan foreign office spokesman Qazi M. Khalilullah said talks between the two foreign secretaries, scheduled for Friday, have been postponed.

“Both countries are in contact to firm up the dates for the meeting of the two foreign secretaries,” Khalilullah told media persons in Islamabad.

“Mutual consultations are on regarding the rescheduling of the talks,” he added.

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