ISLAMABAD - A top Pakistan Foreign Ministry official has said that “some” members of the terrorist Haqqani network are present in the country, but Islamabad is not allowing any group to conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry has made the rare admission in an interview to the state-run Pakistani television PTV broadcast Sunday.
The United States has designated the Haqqani network and its leadership as global terrorists for carrying out high-profile deadly attacks against American and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. officials allege Haqqanis operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan, a charge Islamabad rejects.
“The Haqqani Network is actually part of the Taliban. Most of their people are in Afghanistan, most of them, and some of them are present here (in Pakistan),” said Chaudhry.
Chaudhry asserted the Pakistani leadership is sticking to its pledges of not allowing any individual or group to use Pakistan’s soil for terrorist activities.
“We have also explicitly given the same message to the Taliban and Haqqanis that you must not indulge in any terrorist activity or violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “And if you can’t mend your ways and live peacefully like millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, then you better leave the country because Pakistani soil cannot welcome you and the space would be squeezed on you.”
Consequently, most of the insurgents went back to Afghanistan where 10 percent of the territory is now controlled by the Taliban, Chaudhry said citing U.S. military estimates.
The U.S. Congress last week passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes $900 million for reimbursement to Pakistan for conducting counterterrorism operations to secure its long border with Afghanistan.
But the legislation is linked to the release of $400 million of the allocated amount to Pakistan’s “demonstrable” steps against the Haqqani Network.
Foreign Secretary Chaudhry said Pakistan is putting “incremental pressure” on Taliban and Haqqanis to persuade them to reengage in peace talks with Afghan authorities.
But Islamabad has made it clear to the Afghan leadership that it would not use military force against the insurgents because they would then turn their guns on Pakistanis, bringing Afghanistan’s war to Pakistan, he said, and reemphasized the need for finding a political solution to the Afghan conflict.
The Pakistani official reiterated Islamabad is ready to facilitate peace talks between Afghan warring sides provided Kabul accepts the offer.
Speaking earlier this month in Washington, U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson warned the Haqqanis still pose the greatest threat to Americans and to their coalition partners and to the Afghans.
“And they remain a principal concern of ours. And they, and they do enjoy sanctuary inside Pakistan,” the general added.
Chaudhry urged President Ghani to prevent anti-Pakistan militants from “roaming freely” on his side of the border and carry out attacks in Pakistan on “mere assumptions” that Islamabad harbors anti-Kabul militants.
If the Afghan side believes mere allegations against Pakistan would help solve Afghanistan’s problems “then let them believe so. It would not get them anywhere,” he added.
Afghan officials deny they have anything to do with the militants linked to anti-state Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, though Pakistani officials point to killings of a number of leaders of the group in Afghanistan this year by U.S. drone attacks.
Islamabad hosted a preliminary round of peace talks between Kabul and Taliban officials in July 2015, the first direct contact between Afghan warring sides in 15 years. Chaudhry along with U.S. and Chinese officials attended the negotiations as monitors.
But since then the war has intensified, fueling tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan over Islamabad’s alleged backing of the insurgency.