Pressure on Pakistan grows as Taliban advance in Afghanistan

Kabul [Afghanistan]: With the Taliban claiming towns and territories across Afghanistan, the pressure on Pakistan is building up as the scrutiny is falling on Islamabad.

For decades, Pakistan has served as a sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban. Officials have acknowledged that Taliban fighters maintain homes and families in Pakistan, at a safe distance from the battlefields.

While voicing support for a peaceful solution globally, however, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has been quieter at home. It has not spoken out against pro-Taliban rallies within Pakistan. It also hasn’t condemned reported Taliban atrocities as the group marches toward Kabul.

“Pakistan is really in a bind,” said Elizabeth Threlkeld, a South Asia expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. “Even though Pakistan is really concerned about spillover violence and an influx of refugees, they want to keep the Taliban on the side.”

Pakistani officials deny helping the group militarily, insisting that during negotiations in Doha, Qatar, they pushed hard for peace talks with the Taliban.

In public, they have echoed the line taken by the United States and other parties to the accord reached in Doha, warning that Afghanistan would become a pariah state if the Taliban took it by force.

But Pakistan still allows Taliban leaders free movement into and out of the country and continues to serve as a safe haven where fighters and their families can receive medical care.

Some critics, particularly in Afghanistan, accused Pakistan of actively supporting the Taliban’s offensive, saying that the terrorists could not have mounted such a large effort without assistance.

The US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said this month that Pakistan bore special responsibility because of how many Taliban leaders resided within its borders and that it would be “judged internationally” on whether it was seen to have done all it could to promote a political settlement.

Pakistan’s tolerance of the Taliban has taken a diplomatic toll. India, which is currently presiding over the United Nations Security Council, says that logistical, technical and financial support for the Taliban continues to emanate from Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, claimed at a conference last month in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, that 10,000 jihadis had travelled from Pakistan to join the offensive.

Moreover, the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, a banned terrorist group, that has carried out hundreds of attacks on Pakistani security forces and civilians, including an assault on a school in 2014 that killed at least 145 people, mainly children pose a threat to the security of Pakistan.

TTP claimed responsibility for 26 terrorist attacks in Pakistan. On Thursday the government said it was behind a July blast at a hydroelectric plant that killed nine Chinese workers and four others, a claim the group denied.

Moreover, the TTP chief, Mufti Noor Wali, has described the Afghan Taliban’s victory as one shared by all Muslims.

But a collapse in Afghanistan would carry risks for Pakistan, too, including a possible wave of refugees, and a boost to jihadist movements that target Pakistan’s government for the attack.

“Taliban’s recent advancements in Afghanistan, doubtlessly, have boosted the TTP’s morale and increased the group’s strength,” said Aftab Khan Sherpao, a former Pakistani interior minister who has survived three TTP suicide attacks.

“It is the beginning,” he said. “There will be a rise in terror attacks and it will be linked with Taliban advancement in Afghanistan.”

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