Pakistan said Monday it "amicably" repatriated dozens of Afghan soldiers and police personnel to authorities in Afghanistan a day after they had crossed the border, apparently fleeing advances by Taliban insurgents.
Stepped up Taliban attacks in recent weeks have forced hundreds of pro-Afghan government forces to take shelter in Tajikistan, Iran, China and Pakistan, enabling the insurgents to seize landlocked Afghanistan's strategic border crossings with these neighbors.
The Pakistani military said the 46 Afghan security forces, including five officers, were given "refuge and safe passage" into Pakistan "on their own request" Sunday night after the men were unable to hold their military posts across the border.
"The said soldiers have now been amicably returned to Afghan authorities on their request along with their weapons and equipment," the statement said.
It added the repatriation took place just after midnight Monday at Nawa Pass border crossing in the Pakistani tribal district Bajaur.
In an earlier statement, the army noted the Afghan personnel "have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms."
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.
However, an Afghan armed forces spokesperson, General Ajmal Omar Shinwari, earlier on Monday rejected as "not true" reports of Afghan military personnel seeking refuge in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials rejected those claims and released video footage of the security personnel just before returning them back to Afghanistan.
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.
The Taliban 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 earlier this month captured the town of Spin Boldak, 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 that the 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.