ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister has said elements of the Afghan government are likely supporting a senior Pakistani Taliban leader who is fighting to topple the Islamabad government.Pakistani officials say the Taliban commander known as Fazlullah has been orchestrating raids on Pakistani security forces from Afghanistan, where he fled several years ago after a Pakistani army offensive against his stronghold in the Swat Valley.
Pakistan has repeatedly called on Afghanistan to hunt down Fazlullah, whose fighters cross the border in their hundreds, set up ambushes and attack army checkpoints.
“If somebody is living in somebody’s house and you ask him `who is giving you food, who is giving you all this shelter?’ You know he is in Afghanistan,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters in a weekend interview.
“I think some of the elements (of the Afghan government) there are supporters. Maybe state actors, maybe non-state actors.”
Afghan officials see Pakistan’s suggestion that Afghans are supporting cross-border attacks as an attempt to distract attention from what they say is Pakistan’s long history of supporting Afghanistan’s Taliban movement and other insurgent factions.
US and Afghan officials say there is no comparison between the relatively small and recent presence of Fazlullah’s men in eastern Afghanistan and what they describe as long-standing ties between elements of Pakistani intelligence and the Afghan Taliban.
“These comments made by the Pakistani interior minister are irresponsible and a baseless allegation,” said Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
“Afghanistan has been under attacks from safe havens of insurgents inside Pakistan, and we are quite sure that Mullah Fazlullah is somewhere in Pakistan.”
Fazlullah and other militant leaders based along the border complicate US efforts to stabilise the region before most Nato combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The issue has strained ties between Islamabad and Kabul.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of backing militants said to be based on its soil who cross the border to attack Afghan and Nato forces, including the Haqqani network, blamed for a series of high-profile attacks on Kabul.
Islamabad denies the allegations.
Afghanistan has rushed additional troops and artillery to the mountainous border with Pakistan as tensions continue to rise over cross-border shelling which Afghan officials blame on Pakistan’s military.
Pakistan’s military has said it only responds to attacks by militants, including Pakistani Taliban operating from havens in Afghan territory.
In his heyday, Fazlullah was known as `FM Mullah’, for his fiery radio speeches broadcast in Swat.
Fazlullah has re-emerged as a major security headache for Pakistan’s military.
“He is as dangerous (for Pakistan) as the Haqqanis are dangerous for Afghanistan. He is energising terrorism now. He is recruiting people, he is planning,” said Mr Malik.
In June, about 100 militants loyal to Fazlullah sneaked across the border and ambushed Pakistani troops. The fighters later released a video of what they said were the heads of 17 ambushed soldiers.
It was a reminder that despite army offensives, militant leaders can simply melt away and reappear to take on the army.
“Unfortunately he is enjoying his life in Afghanistan,” said Mr Malik. “I appeal to Afghanistan to look into it and make sure (his) people don’t come to us.”
Asked if Pakistan would be willing to go after the Haqqanis, Mr Malik said: “They are not our babies, they are no longer anyone’s babies. They have become independent.” —Reuters