JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar
India to raise ban on JeM chief Masood Azhar with China Picture: Maulana Masood Azhar (C) is surrounded by Pakistani police and his armed guards at Islamabad's Lal Mosque (Red Mosque) in Melody Market.Reuters

Maulana Masood Azhar, the chief of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) who is suspected to be behind the Pathankot attack, is not in Pakistan's custody, a government source told a national daily.

Pakistan had earlier claimed to have taken Azhar into "protective custody" after India handed over evidence of JeM's involvement in the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab, on 2 January. However, government sources reportedly said that intelligence inputs suggest Pakistan has neither arrested nor filed an FIR against the JeM head.

"There have been media reports from Pakistan claiming a crackdown is under way against Jaish-e-Mohammed and its members. However, as yet, there is no authentic and credible proof to suggest that such action has actually been taken by Pakistan. Till now, no FIR has been registered against Azhar for Pathankot attack," The Indian Express quoted a government official as saying.

The official said that the three JeM operatives who were detained by Pakistan recently have no connection with Pathankot attack.

"Three lower-level JeM members have been detained, but only for possessing jihadi literature. It is not linked to Pathankot attack. Initial reports of Azhar being detained appear to be propaganda by Pakistan agencies," the official said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the Pathankot attack after India demanded action against the perpetrators. India had earlier handed over evidence to Pakistan that linked JeM with the assault on the airbase.

"Pakistan has said it is considering sending an SIT to gather further evidence on the Pathankot attack. However, there is no clarity on the law under which such evidence collection can take place, or the details of a criminal case warranting such evidence gathering," another official said.

The intelligence inputs reportedly suggest that JeM has the backing of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). "Though Jaish is a banned outfit in Pakistan, it continues to be patronized by the ISI. It would be rather surprising if Azhar is directly held responsible for the Pathankot attack," The Times of India quoted a senior intelligence officer as saying.

The foreign secretary-level talk scheduled between the two nations was also delayed in the wake of the ongoing investigation against JeM chief, alleged mastermind of the Pathankot attack. India announced on 14 January that the talks will be rescheduled as Pakistan failed to give confirmation about Azhar's arrest.

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