India called on Pakistan on Thursday (7) to take “prompt and decisive” action against militants it blames for an attack on an air base, days before fraught peace talks between the nuclear-armed neighbours are scheduled to resume.
A meeting between the foreign secretaries of both nations had been tentatively scheduled for January 15, but it is unclear if it will still happen after the weekend attack on the Indian Air Force base near the Pakistan border.
India’s foreign ministry said Islamabad has been given actionable intelligence that those who planned the assault came from Pakistan.
“As far as we are concerned the ball is now in Pakistan’s court,” spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters when asked if the talks were on. “The immediate issue in front of us is Pakistan’s response to the terrorist attack.”
A senior Pakistani official said India provided intelligence that included telephone numbers, call intercepts, and locations where they believe the attackers or their handlers were.
Pakistan is following up the leads, the official said, and hopes that the talks would not be cancelled while it explores them.
Prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan are struggling to keep their renewed dialogue on track after the militant attack killed seven Indian military personnel and wounded 22. All six attackers were killed in the two days of gun battles.
Modi made a surprise stopover in Pakistan last month, the first time an Indian premier has visited in over a decade.
The standoff after the apparent thaw is part of a pattern over the years. Attempts to restart talks have been frequently thwarted by attacks between the two countries, which have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947.
With such an eventuality in mind, the national security advisers (NSA) of the two countries agreed on a process during a meeting in early December to keep dialogue going in case of a potential disruption, the Pakistani official said.
As a result, Indian NSA Ajit Doval has spoken at least three times by phone with his Pakistani counterpart, Naseer Khan Janjua, since the attack, including last Saturday evening when the fighting was still ongoing, the Pakistani official said.
India’s security establishment has blamed the attack on militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, alleged to have been behind an assault on the country’s parliament in 2001 that almost brought the two countries to war for a fourth time.
The Pakistani official said Pakistan could temporarily arrest Jaish-e-Mohammad’s leader Masood Azhar to appease India, but only if the leads checked out.
Pakistan also expects DNA evidence, bodies and other forms of identification from India “within days”, the official said.
Sharif met senior ministers and his national security advisers on Thursday and discussed “issues pertaining to national and regional security”, according to a statement from his office.
Meanwhile, the Indian army and police launched a search operation on Wednesday near Pathankot where a weekend attack on an air force base left seven soldiers dead, after villagers complained about two suspicious men in the area.
The search was focused in Gurdaspur district in the northern state of Punjab, close to Pakistan border and about 51 kilometres (32 miles) from Pathankot.
“The local villagers informed us about two suspicious men in army fatigues close to the army cantonment area,” Gurpreet Singh Toor, senior superintendent of Gurdaspur police, told reporters.
“We have since launched a search operation along with the army in that area. We haven’t yet come up with anything yet but the search is still on,” he added.