Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have called on Pakistan to share its "concerns" on cross-border terrorism formally instead of leveling unfounded allegations in the media.
Pakistani officials blame a recent uptick in terrorist attacks on the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, and militants linked to other extremist groups, allegedly from Afghan sanctuaries.
Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid refuted the allegations Thursday and reiterated that his government does not allow anyone to use the territory of Afghanistan against another country.
"If there is any concern about this, it should be shared directly with the Islamic Emirate instead of disseminating futile claims in the media, which are not in the interest of both countries and people," Mujahid said in his statement, using the official name of his two-year-old government in Kabul.
The rebuttal comes a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other Pakistani officials said that anti-state militants had found sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and stepped up cross-border attacks since the Taliban seized control of the country.
Sharif called on de facto Afghan authorities to take "concrete measures toward denying their soil be used for transnational terrorism."
Last Sunday, a suicide bomber struck a pro-election rally in the northwestern border town of Khar, killing 63 Pakistanis and injuring dozens more. Islamic State Khorasan Province, or IS-K, an Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, claimed it carried out that bombing.
Pakistani authorities have maintained that the TTP attacked a military base in the southwestern city of Zhob last month with the help of heavily armed fighters of the Afghan Taliban. The July 12 raid killed at least nine soldiers and five assailants in ensuing hours-long gun battles.
A foreign ministry statement said Wednesday that three of the slain "terrorists" had been identified as Afghan nationals who lived in the Afghan border province of Kandahar. It noted that Islamabad had asked the Afghan Embassy to receive the bodies of the slain terrorists.
"It's an easy excuse to ask for evidence. What about Zhob attackers?" a senior Pakistani foreign ministry official told VOA when asked for his response to Thursday's claims by the Taliban that they were not allowing the use of Afghan soil for cross-border attacks.
Pakistani officials report a 70% increase in TTP-led terrorist attacks since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, when all American and NATO troops chaotically withdrew after nearly 20 years of involvement in the Afghan war.
"Statistics show that Pakistan has experienced a quantitative rise in [terrorism] after the fall of Kabul [to the Taliban]," Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Wednesday. "Also, weapons left behind by U.S. and NATO forces, unfortunately, have now found themselves in the hands of terrorists and criminal organizations," Zardari told reporters in the Pakistani capital.
Militant violence has killed more than 450 people, including security forces, across Pakistan in the first seven months of 2023. The Pakistani military has confirmed the killing of more than 120 officers and soldiers this year alone.
The TTP, also referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is known to be an offshoot and a close ally of the Afghan Taliban. It is listed as a global terrorist organization by the United States.
The United Nations, in a report released late last month, noted that up to 6,000 TTP members are operating out of Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover has “emboldened” them. It is "gaining momentum in its operations against Pakistan and aspires to regain control of territory within the country,” the report said.
“In June, certain TTP elements were relocated away from the border area, as part of the Taliban’s efforts to rein in the group under pressure from the government of Pakistan,” the U.N. report said. It warned that the TTP could become a regional threat if it continues to have a safe operating base in Afghanistan.