Taliban authorities in Afghanistan announced their plan Sunday to move thousands of Pakistani refugees away from border provinces amid sustained allegations the displaced population is the source of growing terrorism in neighboring Pakistan.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman, told VOA by phone that the refugees currently reside in Khost, Kunar and some adjoining Afghan border provinces.
"The Islamic Emirate plans to relocate them to far-flung provinces (in Afghanistan) to ensure they don't have access to the (border) lines nor are they involved in attacks or any other acts of violence that happen in Pakistan," Mujahid said, using the official title of the Taliban government. He did not elaborate.
The plan comes amid a dramatic surge in cross-border militant attacks in Pakistan since the Taliban reclaimed power in Kabul almost 22 months ago. The violence has killed hundreds of people, mostly Pakistani security forces, especially in districts near the Afghan border.
The outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), allegedly operating out of Afghan soil, has claimed credit for much of the deadly violence.
Hostility on Sunday
The latest hostility occurred Sunday in the volatile North Waziristan border district, where the Pakistani military said that a security raid against a "terrorists' location" had killed two soldiers and two militants.
Officials in Islamabad maintain fugitive TTP leaders and fighters, along with their families, reside among tens of thousands of Pakistanis who have taken refuge in Afghanistan after fleeing a 2014 large-scale counterterrorism military operation in the Waziristan border district of Pakistan.
The Norwegian Refugee Council estimated in an October 2019 report that most of the approximately 72,000 Pakistani refugees settled on Afghan soil were living in a makeshift camp in Khost on the border between the two countries.
Islamabad presses Kabul
Islamabad has been pressing Kabul to rein in cross-border TTP violence and complaining that the group enjoys "greater operational freedom" after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Pakistani officials say that members of the Afghan Taliban have also been helping TTP carry out cross-border attacks.
Mujahid and other Taliban officials have repeatedly denied allegations they are allowing any group to threaten Afghanistan's neighbors, including Pakistan or any other country.
While Mujahid did not name TTP in his comments Sunday, a top Pakistani official told VOA last week that the Taliban had recently told Islamabad they intend to "relocate TTP members" from the border areas to remote Afghan provinces.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah added that the Taliban proposal could limit the access of TTP to Pakistan. He did not elaborate.
The militant group, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claims its insurgency in Pakistan is aimed at overthrowing the government, calling it "un-Islamic."
Washington has also outlawed TTP as a global terrorist organization.
Settlement negotiations collapse
TTP is an offshoot and close ally of the Afghan Taliban. It provided shelter on Pakistani soil and recruits to the Afghan Taliban as they waged insurgent attacks on U.S.-led international troops and the former Afghan government for almost two decades until they seized power in 2021.
Shortly after taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban hosted talks between TTP leaders and Pakistani officials to negotiate a settlement. But the process collapsed last November when the Pakistani Taliban terminated a unilateral shaky cease-fire with the government and has since intensified its violent campaign.
The violence has strained Pakistan's relations with Taliban-governed, landlocked Afghanistan, which heavily relies on land routes and seaports of the neighboring country to conduct bilateral and transit trade activities.