NEW DELHI: Pakistan has confirmed that Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar is under 'protective custody'.

Dawn News quotes Punjab’s law minister Rana Sanaullah confirming that Azhar was taken into protective custody by the counter terrorism department. When asked if the custody can be termed an “arrest”, Sanaullah said Azhar will only face arrest and legal action if his involvement in the Pathankot attack is proved beyond doubt.

The confirmation comes after officials in Pakistan denied any knowledge of the JeM chief’s arrest. Pakistan’s Foreign Office had said on Thursday that it was not aware of the arrest, and Bahawalpur DPO Sarfaraz Ahmad Falki had also expressed ignorance about the custody of Maulana Azhar or any other arrests in his district. Pakistan had however, confirmed at the time the arrest of three Jaish leaders in relation with the Pathankot attack.

The JeM on its part, denied the arrest, issuing a statement on Thursday saying, “Disbelievers and hypocrites across the world are celebrating our arrest, but the arrest never happened… Even if they happen, what difference will it make? No difference, except one. Allah willing, there will be more enthusiasm and excitement among people of the faith, and the work of jihad will gather more strength.”

A day earlier, Azhar had allegedly warned Pakistan on taking action against the JeM, saying it would be “very dangerous” to do so. "...There is a lot of noise coming from India regarding us — arrest, kill, arrest, kill,'' an Indian daily quoted Azhar saying in JeM's purported online mouthpiece, al Qalam, under the pseudonym Saidi. “ our rulers are in anguish because, perhaps, we have disturbed their intimacy and friendship... they want that on the day of judgment, they should stand as friends of (Narendra) Modi and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee."

Azhar purportedly accused Pakistan of being guided "by those who are not our own''. "...they (rulers) continue to turn their own country into a heap of explosives and fire. Each one of them comes and puts their own country on fire and then they flee.''

The JeM leader went on to say that he was not bothered by his detainment. "With my killing, neither will my friends miss me nor will my army...which loves death has been prepared," he wrote. "Allah willing, this army would not let (our) enemies celebrate for too long. It (his army) would not let my absence be felt at all. Thanks to Allah, I do not have any desire that will remain unfulfilled at my death.”

“As for as my family and my children, they are taken care of by Almighty Allah and Almighty Allah will take care of them tomorrow as well,” he said, adding that "...(It has) not (been) to save our life and skin but for the interests of Muslim Umma and in the interest of jihad. I am sorry that the rulers here (in Pakistan) have no respect for that.''

India welcomed Pakistan’s announcement of action against Jaish leaders, and the confirmation of the custody of Azhar, as an “important and positive first step”. ndian External Affairs Minis­try spokesman Vikas Swarup said: “We look forward to the visit of the Pakistani special investigation team and our investigation agencies will extend all necessary cooperation to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice.” The two countries agreed to hold Foreign Secretary level talks, first scheduled for Friday but since deferred.

Sarup said that the foreign secretaries were in touch, and the talks would be resumed very soon. When asked why these were postponed at all, he said that both sides required some time to sort out issues. He said that he had no information about a meeting between the two respective National Security Advisors in Paris as has been reported sections of the media.

This is a major step forward as it sets into motion the joint cooperation on terrorism that New Delhi has been hedging about for a few years now. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not able to move forward on this front, facing stiff resistance from the BJP at that time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has , however, opened the doors for this cooperation with the Pakistani investigators scheduled to arrive here soon.