Pakistan Makes First Arrests in Indian Air Base Attack

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar
2016-02-29
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160229-BD-pakistan-arrest-620 Indian activists carry placards denouncing Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Masood Azhar, following an attack at the Pathankot Air Force base, Jan. 4, 2016. Pakistan’s arrest of three suspects linked to the attack has not lessened India’s call for Azhar’s arrest as well.
AFP

Reports about Pakistan’s arrest of three suspects in connection with last month’s attack on an Indian air base is unlikely to end a months-long diplomatic impasse between New Delhi and Islamabad, analysts in India say.

“By making some arrests in connection with the attack, Pakistan wants to demonstrate to the international community that it is seriously investigating the attack and is committed to act against cross-border terrorism,” Imtiyaz Ahmad, a New Delhi-based political analyst, told BenarNews.

“These arrests don’t seem like a major setback to militant groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that are active in Pakistan,” he said.

On Saturday, a counter-terrorism court in Lahore sent suspects Khalid Mahmood, Irshadul Haque and Muhammad Shoaib to six days of police custody, according to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

Mahmood, Haque and Shoaib are the first suspects officially arrested and charged with involvement in the Pathankot attack since India provided evidence to Pakistan that the assault was plotted and managed by Pakistan-based JeM leaders.

The trio is accused of facilitating the Jan. 2 attack on the base in Pathankot, in northwest India’s Punjab state, the report said. The attack left seven Indian security personnel dead.

“Unless Pakistan arrests JeM leaders, it will not be able to satisfy India or resume the stalled dialogue process,” Ahmad said.

Following the attack, foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for Jan. 15 between the two rivals were postponed indefinitely.

‘Pessimistic’

The talks were part of renewed efforts to mend long-strained ties between the two sides, which have had a bitter relationship since the Indian subcontinent’s partition in 1947.

News of the arrests came about a week after Pakistan registered a First Information Report (FIR) on Feb. 19 against unknown persons, even as Delhi urged Islamabad to book JeM chief Masood Azhar for the Pathankot attack.

But in a televised interview last week with India Today, Sartaj Aziz, a foreign affairs adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said the JeM chief had been in “protective custody” since Jan. 14.

Explaining why the FIR contained no names, Aziz said it was “only a first-stage report and subsequent FIRs will definitely carry names.”

“Whenever a crime happens across the border, it is much more difficult to pursue the legal requirements because we don’t have the locations or evidence,” Aziz said.

According to Pakistani media reports, Mahmood, Haque and Shoaib were arrested by officials of the country’s counter-terrorism department at a rented house in a town in Pakistani Punjab some 70 km (43 miles) from Lahore.

It was still unclear when the arrests took place or what charges were brought against them.

Pakistan has proposed sending its special investigating team to Pathankot to probe any Pakistani link to the air base attack. India has yet to accept the proposal.

Sameer Patil, a security analyst at Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House, said international pressure was mounting on Pakistan to act sternly against terror.

“India has conveyed to the international community that it has provided Pakistan with credible leads in the Pathankot attack incident,” he told BenarNews, adding, “But I am pessimistic that Pakistan will take any serious action against the real conspirators.”

Following the 2008 Mumbai attack, which was claimed by LeT, Pakistan made a few arrests, but it was later found that those arrested were “not even remotely connected to the conspiracy,” Patil said.

“It is possible the latest arrests have only been made to placate the pressure mounting on the Pakistani government,” he said.

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