Pakistan disclosed Tuesday it recently extradited 27 suspected Taliban and Haqqani militants to Afghanistan as part of an effort to stop insurgents from using Pakistani soil for cross-border terrorist activities, information Islamabad kept confidential until now.
The disclosure comes amid growing accusations the Afghan Taliban and its allied Haqqani network of militants used Pakistani soil for plotting recent bombings in Kabul that killed and wounded hundreds of people. It also comes before U.S. President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech in which he is expected to mention terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said the group of suspected militants was handed over to Afghan custody in November.
"Pakistan continues to push any suspected TTA (the Afghan Taliban) and HN (Haqqani network) elements to prevent them from using our soil for any terrorist activity in Afghanistan," Faisal added.
Afghan authorities were not available to respond to the Pakistani disclosure, and Islamabad did not discuss the identities of the individuals it extradited or whether any senior commanders were among them.
On Saturday, a Taliban bomber detonated an ambulance packed with explosives in central Kabul, killing more than 100 people and wounding nearly 250 others in one of the deadliest attacks in the war-torn country.
The bombing came a week after a group of heavily armed Taliban suicide bombers stormed the capital city's Intercontinental Hotel. The assailants battled Afghan forces for about 14 hours and killed 22 people, including four Americans.
The United States has designated the Haqqani network a terrorist organization, and U.S. officials allege the Pakistani spy agency maintains covert ties with the Haqqanis to use the militants to counter the growing influence of rival India in Afghanistan. Islamabad denies the accusations.
Meanwhile, Afghan officials say U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster telephoned his Afghan counterpart, Haneef Atmar, Tuesday evening to condemn the terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the country.
Without naming Pakistan, Atmar said in comments he posted on his official Twitter account that "terrorists' safe havens outside Afghanistan, where the terrorists get training and sanctuaries pose a serious threat to the whole region and world, should be destroyed and eliminated."
Pakistani spokesman Faisal again defended his country's record in the fight against terrorism, saying it has sacrificed 75,000 civilians and 6,000 soldiers while the national economy has suffered losses of around $123 billion.
Faisal separately spoke on state-run radio and reiterated Islamabad's call seeking a negotiated settlement to the war. He maintained that military means have failed to achieve peace and called for the resumption of a four-nation dialogue process to promote Afghan peace.
The Pakistani spokesman said the Quadrilateral Consultative Group involving Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States "is the most appropriate forum to help take the Afghan peace process forward."
The QCG was established in 2016 and held several meetings but failed to persuade the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.Differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan over how to deal with insurgents opposing peace talks also prevented the QCG from making headway.