said it had arrested members of the Islamist terror group widely blamed for a four-day attack on an airbase in India that threatened to wreck a thaw in relations between the two countries.
Islamabad announced on Wednesday that several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) had been arrested based on information supplied by and Pakistan’s own investigations.
“The offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed,” said a statement from the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
The government said Pakistan was considering sending its own investigators to Pathankot, where six gunmen assaulted an airbase on 2 January, killing seven soldiers.
Past crackdowns on JeM ultimately failed to dismantle an organisation that continues to operate openly in Pakistan through its charity wing and numerous publications.
Wednesday’s announcement is nonetheless a potentially significant step against an organisation long patronised by Pakistan’s military establishment as a proxy force against India.
The announcement was cheered by peace campaigners, who feared the Pathankot incident had been deliberately mounted to derail a renewal of high-level diplomatic engagement between the two south Asian countries, which have fought four wars since independence in 1947.
India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyam Jaisankar, is due to travel to Islamabad on Friday to discuss the resumption of the peace process between the neighbouring states, which has been stalled since the launched by Pakistan-based terrorists on targets in India’s commercial capital in 2008.
The meeting has hung in the balance as Delhi waited to see whether Islamabad would respond to the demand by the Indian prime minister, , for Islamabad to take “firm and immediate” action against those responsible for planning the Pathankot attack.
Many analysts suspect the incident, and on 3 January, were deliberately intended to spoil historic overtures Modi made on 25 December during a surprise visit to the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Some even feared that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, rumoured to be unhappy with Sharif’s determination for rapid rapprochement with India, may have authorised the attacks.
JeM has long been associated with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services IntelligenceISI), which used the group as a proxy force to launch attacks inside Indian-held , a Muslim-majority state that Pakistan claims for itself.
Masood Azhar, the group’s leader, was arrested in the aftermath of a JeM assault on India’s parliament in 2001, but a court released him the following year.
Imtiaz Alam, the head of the South Asia Free Media Association, which campaigns for peace between the two countries, said the JeM arrests showed the military were serious in their oft-stated claim to be cracking down on all terrorist groups.
“They are no more supported, even if some elements may have become autonomous and are doing their own private practice,” he said.
“It is a very good omen that Pakistan is taking the investigation seriously. Even hawks like the Indian home minister says he has confidence in the Pakistani investigation.”
Modi, a Hindu nationalist who won power in a landslide victory in 2014, has repeatedly surprised observers with a series of unorthodox initiatives aimed at engaging with his counterpart in Pakistan.
He invited Sharif to his inauguration ceremony, but then allowed the armed forces to take part in a major artillery duel with their Pakistani counterparts after clashes along the contested border.
Senior officials later said that both moves had been designed to test Pakistan’s reactions and gauge the strength of its military’s influence on security and foreign policy.
The Pathankot assault, which dragged on for days before all the attackers were killed, has prompted fierce domestic criticism of India’s security agenciesand the national security adviser, Ajit Doval.
Newspapers have reported poor perimeter security, coordination and decision-making – the Indian Express described “” – and ministers have been accused of making a series of misleading statements.
Underlining the complexity of evolving threats from terrorism in the region, Pakistan suffered an attack on one of its diplomatic missions on Wednesday when three attackers attempted to storm the consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.
Local officials said at least seven members of the Afghan security forces were killed in an assault claimed by Islamic State, which has secured a foothold in Nangarhar.
The group claimed the attackers had succeeded in killing “several Pakistani intelligence officers”, but Islamabad said all of its staff were safe.