Pakistan arrests militants over attack on Indian air base

Indian troops stand guard after a at attack against an air force base on January 5, 2016.
PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan said Wednesday it has arrested several militants belonging to the group believed to be behind a fatal attack on an Indian air base, a move that could help soothe irritated relations with New Delhi.

The announcement came as Islamabad said it was considering sending a team to investigate the January 2 attack on the Pathankot air base, in what observers hailed as a "genuine" bid to salvage a nascent peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals.

The attack - a rare targeting of an Indian military installation outside disputed Kashmir - threatened to undermine improving relations with Pakistan after decades of fractious ties.

It came just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Pakistan in 11 years. India says the assault, which left seven soldiers dead, was carried out by the banned Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan had arrested "several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad", adding that progress was being made in the investigation.

It was not clear what role they are believed to have played in the attack.

Sharif's statement also said that Pakistan was considering sending a special team to Pathankot to seek "additional information" to spur the investigation, adding the decision was being made in consultation with the Indian government.

It is the first time Pakistan has suggested it could send a team to join the probe into the attack.

In 2008, Islamabad turned down New Delhi's demand it dispatch the head of its intelligence agency to India after Pakistani militants carried out a series of high-profile attacks across Mumbai that left 166 people dead.

Security analyst Talat Masood told AFP the suggestion Pakistan could send a team shows Islamabad was making a "genuine and sincere" effort to find out who was responsible, and "wants to fully co-operate with India".

Sharif's statement came after a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by top government and military officials including army chief General Raheel Sharif.

Pakistan's military typically takes a hawkish attitude to India.

The meeting noted "considerable progress" in the Pathankot investigation, and said the offices of Jaish-e-Mohammed - which staged a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that brought the two countries to the brink of war - are being sealed.

"The meeting reiterated that in line with our decision to counter and completely eliminate terrorism, Pakistan would remain engaged with India on this issue," Sharif's statement said.

Modi had urged his Pakistani counterpart to take "firm and immediate action" against those behind the attack, adding that New Delhi had passed on "specific and actionable information" about the incident.

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