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Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Discuss Anti-Terror Cooperation

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A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, left, and Taliban fighters stand guard on their respective sides, at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham, in Khyber district, Pakistan, Sept. 5, 2021.

Afghanistans Taliban said Monday they had discussed bilateral security cooperation with Pakistan, including measures needed at border crossings between the two countries to stem the movement of terrorists into Pakistan.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in Kabul that a delegation from Islamabad visited the country over the weekend for the discussions. The Pakistani team was led by General Faiz Hameed, the head of the countrys spy agency, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

Mujahid said the visitors conveyed their concerns over multiple jail breaks during the Talibans takeover of Afghanistan and the release of hundreds of prisoners involved in militant attacks in Pakistan. He said the Taliban had assured the delegation that no one will be allowed to use Afghan soil against Pakistan.

“It was also discussed that there shall be a check or scrutiny system at the (border) gates to detect individuals who want to harm Pakistan, as per their information, and we dont know about them because we are dealing with this new situation where doors of prisons had already been opened,” he said.

Mujahid said his side had stressed the need for not using this issue to close border gates to Afghan travelers, including patients, refugee families and daily wage workers who move across the border in search of work.

Official sources in Islamabad told VOA the ISI chief went to Kabul to discuss with Taliban representatives matters related to border management and “overall security issue(s) to ensure that spoilers and terrorist organizations do not take advantage of the situation.” The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly interact with media.

The Taliban retook control of Afghanistan last month, nearly 20 years after U.S.-led international forces removed the Islamist movement from power for harboring al-Qaida planners of the terror strikes on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Pakistan has long complained that leaders of an alliance of militant organizations known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, use sanctuaries in volatile Afghan areas to organize cross-border terrorist attacks.

Islamabad has had strained diplomatic ties with the former Afghan government that collapsed in the face of stunning Taliban victories, enabling the Islamist movement to seize control of Kabul on August 15.

The tensions stemmed from allegations that Islamabad was covertly supporting Taliban military activities and sheltering insurgent leaders on Pakistani soil. For their part, Pakistani authorities accused Kabul of supporting the TTP in plotting terrorist attacks against Pakistan.

When the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital last month, inmates from a prison facility at the Bagram Airfield, 50 kilometers north of Kabul, managed to flee with the help of supporters taking advantage of the chaos. The prisoners included TTP operatives, a development that alarmed Pakistan.

The U.S. controlled the Bagram Airfield until July. The American military vacated the facility as part of its withdrawal from the country that was concluded on August 31.

Pakistan’s long-running ties with the Taliban might have generated hopes the Islamist group would help rein in TTP cross-border violent activities from their Afghan hideouts, say analysts. But they say those expectations could be misplaced, citing the ideological closeness between the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban.

People arriving from Afghanistan gather after they cross into Pakistan at the Friendship Gate crossing point, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan, Sept. 6, 2021.
People arriving from Afghanistan gather after they cross into Pakistan at the Friendship Gate crossing point, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan, Sept. 6, 2021.

"For Pakistan, getting the Taliban to curb the TTP amounts to an ambitious task. The TTP has long been allied with the Taliban, and it has partnered operationally with the Taliban. The Taliban isn’t known for denying space to its militant allies, and I don’t see the TTP being an exception to the rule," said Michael Kugelman, deputy Asia director at Washington’s Wilson Center.

Analysts note an increase in deadly TTP-orchestrated attacks in Pakistan. The latest one occurred Sunday, when a suicide bomber in the city of Quetta killed four Pakistani troops and wounded at least 18 others.

“It was widely assumed that as the Afghan Taliban are close to Pakistan for several reasons, the TTP threat to Pakistan will automatically decline/end with its takeover of Afghanistan. However, the August TTP attacks list shows its opposite. TTP has claimed the highest number of attacks in August than in a single month of the last four to five years,” observed Abdul Sayed, a regional security expert.

Sayed, who is based in Sweden, noted that around 800 TTP members secured their freedom from Afghan jails with the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul.

Pakistani officials, however, remain upbeat that landlocked Afghanistan requires a free flow of trade and transit trade facilities through Pakistan to overcome its humanitarian and critical economic challenges.

That leverage, the officials say, and counterterrorism commitments the Taliban have given to the United States and neighboring countries would be used to press the new Afghan rulers to deliver on their pledges.

Just before the Taliban took over Kabul, their chief, Hibatullah Akhundzada, had set up a three-member high-powered commission to persuade TTP members to stop violence against Pakistan and return to their homes across the border to live peacefully, VOA had learned from highly placed official sources in Islamabad.

However the Taliban have not since publicly confirmed the panel’s formation and TTP attacks have continued against Pakistani forces.

Analysts say the Taliban are under international scrutiny and must live up to their counterterrorism commitments if they want their country to remain part of the regional community or the world at large and earn global recognition for their rule.

On Monday, Taliban spokesman Mujahid said that they would like to join a multibillion-dollar bilateral project China has initiated in Pakistan.

“The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project is important for entire Asia, including Afghanistan. If the CPEC route goes through Afghanistan, we would cooperate,” he said.

China has spent more than $25 billion in Pakistan over the past six years under the bilateral collaboration, building road networks, power plants and a deep-water port on the Arabian Sea and developing agriculture as well as social sectors.

Both Islamabad and Beijing say they are set to bring roads and other CPEC-related infrastructure into Afghanistan to help in the reconstruction of the war-shattered nation.

Beijing has in recent years developed close contacts with the Taliban and expects the Islamist movement to fight the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which is blamed for conducting terrorist attacks in China.

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