National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf dismissed on Thursday allegations of Pakistan extending support to the Taliban in Panjshir — the last holdout Afghan province where the group defeated resistance forces earlier this month — linking the accusations to a "fake news network" created by India and a "bogey" by previous governments in Kabul.
On September 7, demonstrations were held in Kabul against the backdrop of the Taliban taking over Panjshir, with protesters denouncing perceived meddling by Pakistan.
Yusuf was asked about these claims during an appearance on CNN's Connect the World, where journalist Becky Anderson referred to the accusations by anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Iran's foreign ministry condemning "foreign interference" in the war-torn country.
"Did the Pakistani army support the Taliban attack on anti-Taliban forces in Panjshir using drones and/or other weaponry?" asked Anderson.
"It's preposterous is all I can say," replied Yusuf.
The NSA pointed out that Pakistan had been saying that "project Afghanistan" was failing because of the country's internal problems, some of which he attributed to a corrupt government.
Yet the world saw Pakistan as the problem, he said.
"This was scapegoating by previous governments in Kabul which, unfortunately, the international community started believing because they didn't want to talk about their own failures," he said.
Specifically answering allegations regarding Pakistan helping the Taliban with drones in Panjshir, the NSA held up a paper showing screenshots of Indian news channels, which he said had been spreading fake news about Pakistan.
Pointing to an image on the paper, he said: "This is mainstream Indian media showing an American jet flying over Wales in the United Kingdom and presenting it as Pakistan doing something in Panjshir."
He went on to say that India had spent millions of dollars in "creating a fake news network [against Pakistan]".
The image Yusuf was showing was shared by some Twitter users, who claimed it to be a Pakistan Air Force jet shot down by resistance forces in Panjshir. But a fact check by Dawn.com and independent journalists showed the picture was actually from 2018 in the United States.
Anderson also questioned Yusuf on Pakistan's involvement in the formation of the new Taliban government, referring to the ISI chief's recent visit to the country.
At that, Yusuf asked, "Why did the CIA director go to Afghanistan much before my ISI chief went there?"
He said that the ISI chief had visited Afghanistan, and would visit again, as Pakistan shared a border with Afghanistan and had to engage with the new government to make sure that the border was secure.
Yusuf also pointed out that other countries had sought Pakistan's help for evacuation from Afghanistan and cooperation was needed on that front as well.
Dubbing the reports of Islamabad's involvement a conspiracy theory, he said there was no logic to them, as the ISI chief was interviewed by the media during that visit and that defied that he was on a "secret mission".
"Pakistan has the right to defend its national security," he said, adding that it would continue to do so by engaging in Afghanistan.
He further said the world needed to move beyond these conspiracy theories and cooperate to benefit the common Afghan man.
Yusuf then denied Islamabad's involvement in the formation of the new government in Afghanistan, saying that it was a sovereign country.
Meeting between COAS and CIA chief
Earlier in the interview, Anderson asked Yusuf about the recent meeting between Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hameed in Islamabad.
The NSA said the CIA director was here to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and such consultations would continue.
He added that the threat of terrorism following recent developments in Afghanistan was also discussed during the meeting — an issue that Pakistan had raised multiple times.
Yusuf said Pakistan shared a long border with Afghanistan, through which "instability had spilt over" to the former for the past four decades. Since 9/11, he said, many lives were lost in Pakistan, the country's economy had suffered and it faced the problem of internally displaced persons.
He said terrorists had turned on Pakistan after it had extended support to the US following 9/11.
For Pakistan, he said, instability in Afghanistan was an "existential problem".
Yusuf said it was for this reason that Pakistan had been urging the international community to remain engaged in Afghanistan and to make sure that there was no economic meltdown.
When Anderson asked about whether Pakistan would cooperate further on fighting terrorism, Yusuf answered by asking when Pakistan had not cooperated on the matter.
"I told you [about] the kind of support we provided and the kind of cost we paid for it," he said, adding that Pakistan could not afford instability in Afghanistan and disengagement with developments in Afghanistan was not an option.
But, he said, the cooperation had to be "under a legal framework".
"There can be no boots on the ground of any foreign country in Pakistan. Pakistan cannot partner unless it is mandated and sanctioned under international law."
He further stated that the mistake committed after 9/11 should not be repeated.
"One thing was said and other thing was done by the US ... and others."
He reiterated that Pakistan would cooperate in a transparent manner, but there should be no infringement on its sovereignty.
'Let's incentivise good behaviour'
The NSA further stated that instead of talking about the anticipated security vacuum and other problems in Afghanistan, the world should focus on averting these problems.
"Let's engage the reality in Afghanistan. Let's incentivise good behaviour, and by doing that, get to a governance model that provides for the average Afghan, and there is no need for a security vacuum because the country would be stable."
He said Pakistan was willing to work with the international community for ensuring a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, but "the engagement has to come from the West as that's where the legitimacy lies for the Taliban.”
'Security threat from TTP'
To a question about the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan gaining some ground following the developments in Afghanistan, Yusuf acknowledged that there was a security threat from them and it was one of the reasons the ISI chief visited Afghanistan.
He said Pakistan's stance was that Afghan soil should not be used for terrorist activities.
As Anderson steered the conversation again to Afghans protesting Pakistan's involvement in their country, Yusuf said "minds have been poisoned there for over 20 years".
With a video of a protest playing on the screen, he reiterated that Pakistan was made a scapegoat by previous Afghan leaders, particularly referring to former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani's claim that Islamabad had planned to send 10,000 t0 15,000 terrorists across the border.
"Are we mad that 10-15,000 people are crossing from Pakistan and nobody notices?" Yusuf remarked.
The NSA also said that demonstrations were not held at as large a scale as had been reported.
He said there had been a "fabrication of reality" and Afghans and Pakistanis shared relations that went back centuries.
The NSA maintained that the reports were blown out of proportion and Pakistan would continue to work with Afghanistan to ensure security in the region.