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Pakistan Tries to Publicly Widen Gap with Taliban

  • Ayaz Gul

FILE - Pakistan's Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.

FILE - Pakistan's Foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.

Pakistan on Thursday condemned “the spike in violence” stemming from the "spring offensive" the Taliban recently unleashed in Afghanistan. The unusual public criticism is yet another indication Islamabad is distancing itself from the Islamist insurgent group it once helped take control of most of the war-torn neighboring country.

For more than a decade, Pakistan’s powerful military has been accused of secretly helping the Taliban plan and execute its annual spring offensive in Afghanistan using safe havens on the Pakistani side of the porous border.

The allegations that the neighboring country was behind the bloody insurgency have been a primary source of tensions in bilateral ties and prevailing suspicion and distrust.

But Islamabad has in recent weeks taken steps that, Pakistani officials insist, demonstrate their country’s commitment to forge closer ties with the Afghan state rather than the Taliban.

That latest such move came on Thursday when Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasneem Aslam, at her weekly news conference, condemned Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan. She was asked whether the spring offensive by the insurgent group was a setback for Afghan peace efforts.

“We have already condemned the spike in violence, and we would like to see a national reconciliation process in Afghanistan," said Aslam.

Earlier this month, Pakistan invited Afghanistan’s visiting army chief to address a graduation ceremony at the country’s premier military training academy. He became the first foreigner to have received the honor, and the entire event was shown live on all Pakistani television channels.

Pakistani officials also secretly contacted Taliban leaders to urge them to engage in peace talks with Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s initiative to open “a new chapter” in relations with Pakistan have generated hopes of a peaceful end to the Afghan conflict, though a rise in Taliban attacks are seen as a blow to those hopes.

Aslam reiterated her country’s commitment to continue support for peace efforts the Afghan government is making, saying peace in Afghanistan is crucial for maintaining stability in Pakistani border regions.

“We have good cooperation with Afghanistan, which has been getting better by the day…We are working closely. There are very frequent exchanges of visits, consultation and coordination. Pakistan has clearly enunciated that its policy would not allow its territory to be used against Afghanistan or any other country," she said.

Pakistan has been conducting major counterterrorism military operations in areas near the Afghan border and says the months-long action has destroyed the “vast terrorist infrastructure” used for attacks on both sides of the border. The military claims the offensive has killed hundreds of local and foreign militants and most of the areas have been cleared.

In an announcement late on Thursday, the military’s media wing said that security forces have captured several “terrorists’ strongholds” after fierce fighting in the Khyber tribal district near the Afghan border. It says the battle left five Pakistani soldiers and nearly 30 militants dead.

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