ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has arrested the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group and made a high-level team of investigators for sending it to India to further investigate the Pathankot airbase attack.

Jaish chief ‘Maulana’ Masood Azhar, an Islamist hardliner who was blamed for a 2001 attack on India’s parliament, was detained two days ago along with his brother and brother-in-law on suspicion that his outfit masterminded the attack this month on the Indian airbase, officials said yesterday.

A high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday expressed satisfaction over the arrests made in the light of the information provided by India and decided to approach Indian government for permission for the Pakistani investigators to move to Pathankot for further probe.

Based on the initial investigation in Pakistan, and the information provided by India, several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammad have been apprehended, a statement issued by PM Office stated, adding the offices of the organisation are also being traced and sealed.

But The Nation correspondent from Bahawalpur, where the banned outfit is based, said no noticeable activity was seen around the Markaz Usman-o-Ali – the so-called undeclared headquarters of banned Jaish-e-Muhammad.

The Markaz is registered with the Wafaqul Madaris, a non-governmental regulatory body of the religious seminaries which however is recognised by the government. Besides the religious education, students at the Markaz are taught science, computer and other modern subjects.

According to the report the Markaz was functioning normally and not even a single policeman had been seen around it.

Officials in Islamabad said earlier in the day that authorities had arrested several members of Masood Azhar’s group and sealed off its offices. They said the arrested will remain in protective custody for at least 30 days.

But, Bahawalpur Acting Regional Police Officer Gohar Mushtaqa Bhutta told The Nation that he did not know about the arrest of 12 persons belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad from Bahawalpur district and not a single office of the outfit had been sealed by police.

However, sources in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also confirmed that Jaish chief, his brother Mufti Abdul Rauf and a couple of other people belonging to the group were taken into custody and investigators are interrogating them in the light of the information provided by India.

“We will keep them (Azhar and brothers) for as long as we need to carry out our investigation over India’s claims about the attack. We are resolved to take this investigation to its conclusion,” a senior intelligence official told Reuters news agency.

A senior government official close to the investigation said that Azhar, who has been placed under house arrest in the past but never prosecuted, would be prosecuted this time if evidence connected him to the attack on the Pathankot air base.

On the other hand, soon after the meeting at PM House, the prime minister notified the team probing into the airbase attack. On getting permission from India, the investigators would proceed to Pathankot to look for the missing links in the investigation conducted so far.

The team constituted by the PM comprised Rai Tahir, Additional Inspector General of Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), Salahuddin Khan, Additional Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CTD, Azeem Arshad, Lahore director of Intelligence Bureau (IB), Dr Usman Anwar, Lahore director of Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), Brigadier Noman Saeed from Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Lt-Col Irfan Mirza from Military Intelligence (MI).

The meeting chair by the prime minister noted with satisfaction that as part of Pakistan’s commitment to eliminate terrorism from country’s soil and resolve to not allow its territory to be used for acts of terrorism anywhere, considerable progress has been made in the investigations being carried out regarding the Pathankot incident.

The meeting reiterated that in line with the decision to counter and completely eliminate terrorism, Pakistan would remain engaged with India on this issue.

Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, National Security Adviser (r) Lt-Gen Nasir Khan Janjua, Personal Assistant to PM Tariq Fatemi, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, ISI DG Rizwan Akhter and other high officials attended the meeting.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had earlier assured his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi that Islamabad would not hesitate to take “prompt and decisive action” if the involvement of Pakistan-based elements in the attack on the Indian airbase was proved beyond doubt.

The attack came about a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian premier in 11 years.

Modi had urged Nawaz to take “firm and immediate action” against those behind the attack after New Delhi had passed on “specific and actionable information” about the incident.