A senior Pakistani envoy will travel to Afghanistan on Wednesday for bilateral talks with Taliban leaders amid growing allegations Afghan-based fugitive militants have stepped up cross-border terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Asif Durrani, Islamabad's newly appointed special representative on Afghanistan, will hold meetings in Kabul, focusing on mutual trade and economic and security cooperation, said a Pakistani official Tuesday. He spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to interact publicly with the media.
Durrani told VOA in the run-up to his Kabul visit that Pakistan's trade with and through landlocked Afghanistan had increased since the Taliban reclaimed control of the country two years ago. Bilateral trade currently stands at more than $2 billion, according to official data.
The Pakistani envoy also hailed the growth of Afghanistan’s trade with other neighbors, including China and Iran. Durrani said that "the relative Afghan peace" has enabled Pakistan to increase its trade with landlocked Central Asian countries through Afghan transit routes to nearly $200 million from $55 million two years ago.
"It is good for Afghanistan and will help address many issues; especially it will reduce the poverty rate, which is close to 95% per the U.N. estimates. It is a promising process, but it will take a while," Durrani said.
"An increase in economic activity will also help deal with the humanitarian crisis amid reports that international donors may reduce their aid contribution for Afghanistan. So, the coming winters are likely to be much harsher for Afghans," the Pakistani envoy said.
Durrani's visit coincides with a surge in militant attacks in Pakistan, particularly in districts adjacent to the country's nearly 2,600-kilometer Afghan border. The violence has killed more than 400 people this year, mostly security forces, with the Pakistani military losing 12 soldiers in a single day on July 12.
The violence is mainly claimed by or blamed on an alliance of outlawed groups, known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, conducting attacks against the Pakistani state from sanctuaries in Afghanistan, according to officials in Islamabad.
Pakistan has urged the Taliban to adhere to their February 2020 agreement with the United States and prevent terrorists from using Afghan soil to threaten other countries.
On Monday, Washington joined Islamabad in calling on the Taliban to meet their counterterrorism commitments.
We have made very clear that we believe the Taliban has the responsibility to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a safe haven for launching terrorist attacks," U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
Last week, the Pakistani military sternly warned the Taliban against allowing the TTP and other terrorist groups on their soil to threaten the country.
"The armed forces of Pakistan have serious concerns on the safe havens and liberty of action available to TTP in Afghanistan,” a military statement said on Friday. "Such attacks are intolerable and would elicit an effective response from the security forces of Pakistan."
Pakistani security officials have also confirmed seizing U.S. military weapons from militants killed in recent counterterrorism operations, saying members of the Afghan Taliban also took part in last week's terrorist attacks in southwestern Baluchistan province.
The Geneva-based independent Small Arms Survey published a report earlier this month warning that the TTP and other militants continue to have access to weapons of now defunct Afghan security forces that were trained and equipped by the U.S. military.
Taliban authorities rejected Pakistani allegations that the TTP or other groups were using Afghan soil for cross-border terrorism. Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged Islamabad on Saturday to share the evidence with Kabul so they could investigate the claims.
On Monday, the White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, ruled out the possibility of Afghan refugees participating in terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
"We've seen no indication that Afghan refugees in Pakistan or along that border are guilty of acts of terrorism…And we'll continue to work with Pakistan, as we have on their legitimate terrorism threats and their challenges in counterterrorism," Kirby told reporters in Washington.
Pakistan hosts more than three million Afghan refugees and economic migrants fleeing decades of conflicts and poverty in their country.