Pakistan said Monday dozens of Afghan border forces, including several officers, took refuge on the Pakistani side after being unable to hold their military posts apparently in the wake of advances by Taliban insurgents inside Afghanistan.
Stepped up Taliban attacks in recent weeks have forced hundreds of pro-Afghan government forces to escape to Tajikistan, Iran, China and Pakistan, enabling the insurgents to seize landlocked Afghanistan’s strategic border crossings with these neighbors.
The Pakistani military said in a statement Monday that a local Afghan army commander at the border crossing in the northwestern town of Chitral late Sunday “requested…for refuge and safe passage for 46 soldiers and police, including five officers…due to [the] evolving security situation in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan personnel “have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms” and they will be repatriated to the Kabul government after due process, the statement added.
The Pakistani army noted that in early July it had also given “refuge/safe passage” to a group of 35 Afghan border forces under similar circumstances before they were handed over to Kabul.
There was no immediate response from Afghan officials.
Reports said the soldiers were stationed in the eastern Afghan border province of Kunar, the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
The insurgents have stepped up attacks against Afghan security forces and captured vast territory since early May, when the United States and NATO allies officially began pulling their last remaining troops from Afghanistan.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, traditionally plagued by suspicion and deep mistrust, deteriorated after the Taliban captured the town of Spin Boldak earlier this month, which serves a major trade route between the two countries.
There are several border crossings between the two countries, which share a 2,600-kilometer historically open border.
Kabul has consistently accused Islamabad of allowing the Taliban to use sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to direct attacks inside Afghanistan.
Pakistan rejects the accusations and says it has over the past five years unilaterally constructed a robust fence and hundreds of new forts along most of the Afghan frontier, effectively preventing illegal movements in either direction.
Islamabad also accuses Kabul of providing shelter to anti-Pakistan militants to orchestrate cross-border terrorist attacks, charges Afghan authorities deny.
Bilateral relations between the two countries hit a new low earlier in the month when the Afghan government recalled all its diplomatic staff from Pakistan over the brief kidnapping of the daughter of the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad.
The Pakistani interior minister said last week, while addressing a news conference, that investigators have not found any evidence substantiating Kabul’s claims their ambassador’s daughter was kidnapped. The minister, however, called for the investigation to formally conclude in line with local laws and for close cooperation between the two countries to continue.