By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report
ISLAMABAD/ KABUL: Pakistan’s defence minister has alleged that Afghanistan’s soil is being used by armed groups to launch attacks on his country, prompting a sharp response from Taliban government in Kabul which called the allegation “incorrect” and “regrettable”.
“We have spoken to Afghanistan government and we will keep saying that … their soil is being used for cross-border terrorism,” Khwaja Asif told a private news channel on Monday night.
Asif’s remarks came shortly after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, newly appointed military chief General Asim Munir and other top officials attended a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) in the capital Islamabad.
A statement issued by the government after the NSC meeting said “no country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries to terrorists” and their attacks “will be dealt with full force of the state”.
The NSC statement did not name any country but it was an apparent reference to neighboring Afghanistan, whose government denies the allegations as “provocative and baseless”.
In response to the two statements, Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban government in Afghanistan, on Tuesday said “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations with all its neighboring countries, including Pakistan,” using the name Taliban has given to the country.
“The Islamic Emirate is trying its best that the territory of Afghanistan is not used against Pakistan or any other country. We are committed to this goal, but the Pakistani side is also responsible to try controlling the situation, refrain from giving baseless statements and provocative assertions, because such statement and mistrust is not in the interest of either side,” it added.
The exchange of words between Pakistan and Afghanistan officials follows a series of recent attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed group also known as Pakistani Taliban because of its ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban.
The TTP has been waging a rebellion against the state of Pakistan for more than a decade. The group demands the imposition of their hardline interpretation of Islamic law, the release of its members arrested by the government, and a reversal of the merger of Pakistan’s tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In 2022 alone, Pakistan’s monitoring agencies recorded more than 150 attacks launched by the TTP across the country, killing dozens of people. Authorities fear the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan has emboldened the TTP and led to its resurgence.
In November, the armed group unilaterally ended an Afghan Taliban-brokered ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani government and ordered its fighters to carry out attacks across the country.
In his interview with the news channel, Asif invoked the Doha accord the Taliban signed with the United States in February 2020 to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
As part of the pact, the Taliban committed to not allowing any armed group to use Afghanistan’s soil to launch attacks on another nation. As US and NATO troops began to leave in August 2021, the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul.
‘Peace is non-negotiable’
In a tweet on Tuesday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif said Pakistan will “adopt zero tolerance policy for terrorists challenging its writ”. “Peace is non-negotiable,” he wrote.
Last month, TTP fighters overpowered Pakistani security personnel and took them as hostages at a counterterrorism centre in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. The 40-hour siege ended after the Pakistani military stormed the facility and killed all 33 TTP attackers.
The incident added to escalating tensions between Islamabad and Kabul.
Last week, Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah said his government is considering launching attacks on TTP hideouts in Afghanistan if the Taliban government fails in handing over members of the armed group to Pakistan.
The Taliban responded, saying Afghanistan is “not without its owner”.
“As always, we are ready to defend the territorial integrity and independence of our homeland, and it is mentionable we have a better experience than anyone in defending and protecting our country,” it said in a statement.