The team investigating the attack on the Pathankot airbase in India has reported that it can find no linkage or evidence to suggest that Masood Azhar had ordered the attack or was involved in its planning. He is the head of the banned organisation Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) which the Indians claim carried out the attack. After the attack and the allegations made by the Indian side, action was taken relative to the JeM. Its headquarters was sealed and several dozen activists detained. The Joint Investigation Team set up by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is still slated to visit India, but the attack is casting a long shadow over the nascent peace process.
The report goes on to say that “low cadre members” of the JeM may have been involved but that does not deliver sufficient clarity to satisfy the Indian side nor indeed should Pakistan be satisfied either. There is no paucity of evidence as to the origins of the attack, and if the Indians have intercepts of phone conversations made while it was in progress, then it is up to them to share it. For its part, Pakistan needs to be a lot more proactive in addressing the problem of extremism and not only in Punjab.
Where all of this leaves the peace process is unclear. Neither side has gone down the well-trodden road of finger-pointing and re-running the blame game, a welcome development in itself. Both sides, at least via their respective leaders, have said they remain committed to the developing dialogues at the foreign secretary level. Equally unclear is the fate and future of Azhar, currently in what is described as ‘protective custody’. If there is no evidence against him, even though he heads a banned organisation, the justification for holding him may be considered by some quarters to have weakened. Yet releasing him is unlikely to play well with India as well as the US, the UK, Japan and France, all of whom have had a hand, quite possibly a heavy hand, in pressuring Pakistan to wield a bigger stick in the direction of extremist organisations. What India and Pakistan need to do is to keep talking, because if they do not, they are handing a win to their enemies.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2016.