Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s defense minister has denounced that armed groups are using Afghan soil to launch attacks against his country, prompting a harsh response from the Taliban government in Kabul, which called the accusation “incorrect” and “regrettable”.
“We have spoken with the Afghan government and we will continue to say that… their territory is being used for cross-border terrorism,” Khwaja Asif told a private news channel on Monday night.
Asif’s remarks came shortly after Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, newly appointed military chief General Asim Munir and other senior officials attended a National Security Committee (NSC) meeting in the capital, Islamabad.
A statement released by the government after the NSC meeting said “no country will be able to provide safe havens for terrorists” and their attacks “will be dealt with with the full force of the state.”
The NSC statement did not name any countries, but was an apparent reference to neighboring Afghanistan, whose government denies the allegations as “provocative and baseless.”
Responding to the two statements, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban government in Afghanistan, said on Tuesday that “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants good relations with all its neighboring countries, including Pakistan,” using the name the Taliban has given to the country.
“The Islamic Emirate is doing everything possible so that the territory of Afghanistan is not used against Pakistan or against any other country. We are committed to this goal, but the Pakistani side is also responsible for trying to control the situation, refraining from making unsubstantiated statements and provocative claims, because such statements and mistrust do not benefit either party,” he added.
The exchange between Pakistani and Afghan officials follows a series of recent attacks by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed group also known as the Pakistani Taliban due to its ideological affinity with the Afghan Taliban.
The TTP has been waging a rebellion against the state of Pakistan for over a decade. The group is demanding the imposition of its hardline interpretation of Islamic law, the release of its members arrested by the government and the reversal of the merger of Pakistan’s tribal areas with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In 2022 alone, Pakistani monitoring agencies recorded more than 150 attacks launched by the TTP across the country, killing dozens of people. Authorities fear that the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan has emboldened the TTP and led to its revival.
In November, the armed group unilaterally ended a ceasefire agreement brokered by the Afghan Taliban 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 agreement that 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 pledged not to allow any armed group to use Afghan soil to launch attacks against another nation. As US and NATO troops began to withdraw in August 2021, the Afghan Taliban took over Kabul.
‘Peace is not negotiable’
In a tweet Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif said Pakistan “will adopt a zero tolerance policy for terrorists who challenge his court order.” “Peace is not negotiable,” he wrote.
NSC made some important decisions yesterday after hours of deliberations. Two of them stand out: the Pakistani state will adopt a zero tolerance policy for terrorists who challenge its order. Peace is not negotiable. Two, the economic roadmap will revive the economy and bring relief to the people.
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) January 3, 2023
Last month, TTP fighters overpowered Pakistani security personnel and took them hostage at an anti-terror center in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on the border with Afghanistan. The 40-hour siege ended after the Pakistani army 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 to hand over members of the armed group to Pakistan.
The Taliban responded, saying that Afghanistan “is not without its owner.”
“As always, we are ready to defend the territorial integrity and independence of our homeland, and it is worth mentioning that we have better experience than anyone in defending and protecting our country,” he said in a statement.