India and Pakistan postpone peace talks

Activists in Mumbai carrying photographs of the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar (far left), and the chief of Pakistan's outlawed Islamic hardline Jamaat ud Dawa, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, during a protest on Jan 4 against the attack on In
Activists in Mumbai carrying photographs of the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Maulana Masood Azhar (far left), and the chief of Pakistan's outlawed Islamic hardline Jamaat ud Dawa, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, during a protest on Jan 4 against the attack on India's air force base in Pathankot.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But talks will be held soon as Islamabad arrests terrorists who attacked Indian airbase

India and Pakistan have postponed talks between their top diplomats but Islamabad's arrest of members of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terror group that attacked an Indian Air Force base, has ensured talks will be held in the "very near future", said an Indian official.

Still, in a reflection of how hardliners in India feel about the engagement with Pakistan, a right-wing group yesterday vandalised the Pakistan International Airlines office in Delhi.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was supposed to travel to Islamabad for talks today with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, to finalise the contours of a new dialogue between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

But the Jan 2 terror attack on the airbase at Pathankot put a damper on the peace initiative as India demanded "prompt action" against those responsible for the attack.

Six terrorists had entered the base in an attempt to target Indian assets such as choppers and planes. Though none was hit, seven Indian security officials died in a two-day operation to take out the terrorists.

Yesterday, New Delhi noted it was satisfied with Pakistan's investigations for now. "Considerable progress has been made in the investigation. The action taken against the Jaish-e-Mohammad is an important and positive first step," said Mr Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs. He said the two sides needed "more time and more preparations" to prepare for the talks, but did not give any date.

"This is not a unilateral step," he said, adding that India would welcome Pakistani investigators to the country and extend all possible help to bring the "perpetrators to justice".

India and Pakistan have an unresolved border dispute that remains a constant source of tension along the border where, despite a ceasefire, the two sides often exchange fire. Thus, previous attempts to resolve outstanding issues through dialogue have been unsuccessful.

Analysts said Prime Minister Narendra Modi - who pulled off a surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas Day, the first by an Indian premier in more than a decade - has a tough task of keeping the peace process on track.

"The government wants to find a face-saving way to go ahead with the talks. But they are facing the same dilemma as the previous government on whether to carry on the dialogue irrespective of the terrorist acts," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. "So far, there is no long-term vision of the Pakistan policy."

The Modi government suddenly softened its position on Pakistan last month, agreeing to resume talks on all issues. Sources say New Delhi is keen to shore up Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has always wanted to work on a peace process with India. Still, India hoped Pakistan would continue its investigation into the Pathankot attack "and bring all perpetrators to justice", said Mr Swarup.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'India and Pakistan postpone peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe