Pakistan’s interior minister said Sunday that the families of Afghanistan’s Taliban reside in his country, including in areas around the capital, Islamabad, and the insurgent group’s members receive some medical treatment in local hospitals.
The admission by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed came during an interview aired by a privately-owned Pakistani television channel, the Geo News.
It is a significant departure from Islamabad’s consistent rejection of allegations leveled by Afghan leaders that the Taliban use Pakistani soil to direct and sustain insurgent activities in Afghanistan.
“Taliban families live here, in Pakistan, in Rawat, Loi Ber, Bara Kahuh and Tarnol,” Rashid told the Urdu-language network citing the names of Islamabad suburbs. “Sometimes their dead bodies arrive and sometimes they come here in hospitals to get medical treatment,” he said.
Pakistan has long blamed its nearly 2,600-kilometer open border with Afghanistan for facilitating militant and other illegal movements between the two countries.
Additionally, Pakistani officials say about three million Afghan refugees reside in the country, which sometimes serves as a hiding place for Taliban insurgents. Many of the displaced Afghan families have fled years of war and turmoil in their poverty-stricken country.
Separately, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters Sunday that violence and chaos could grip Afghanistan after the United States and NATO allies withdraw all their troops from the country by a September 11 deadline.
“Violence is increasing there (in Afghanistan) and obviously Pakistan is worried about it,” Qureshi said in Multan, his native city, which is in eastern Pakistan.
He warned that if the Afghan security situation worsens and turns into a civil war, it would be detrimental for Afghanistan, but it could also undermine Pakistani gains against terrorism as well as trigger another exodus of Afghan refugees into Pakistan.
“We are already hosting and looking after almost three million Afghan refugees and we can’t take more because are we not in a position (economically) to shoulder the burden,” Qureshi said.
The Taliban has intensified attacks against Afghan government forces since May 1 when the U.S.-led international forces formally began their withdrawal from the country.
The United Nations estimates the insurgents have since overrun more than 50 districts, raising fears the Islamist Taliban could regain power in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s news network, TOLOnews, reported Sunday that “108 districts have fallen to the Taliban in the last two months, but security forces have retaken 10 of the districts during this period.”