Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said that the Pakistani government would be "open to giving" a pardon to members of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) if they promise not to get involved in terrorist activities and submit to the Pakistani Constitution.
In an interview with The Independent in Islamabad whose video was posted on social media by the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan on Wednesday, the foreign minister said Pakistan was concerned about the reports of TTP figures being released from prisons in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
"If those guys come and start creating problems for us over here, it will affect innocent lives and we don't want that," he said while referring to the TTP.
Qureshi said if the new Afghan setup could use its influence and talk to the TTP, and "if [the TTP] are willing to mend fences and not take the law into their hands and not get involved in terrorist activities and they submit and surrender to the writ of the government and the Constitution of Pakistan, we are even open to giving them a pardon."
"But as long as they do not come and start undertaking terrorist activities [in Pakistan]. That is our concern," the minister emphasised.
Qureshi termed as "positive" the Afghan Taliban administration's announcement that they would not allow any terrorist groups to use their soil against any country, including Pakistan.
He said Pakistan had been "continuously" pointing out TTP sanctuaries to the Ashraf Ghani government, "but they wouldn't move". It remains to be seen whether the Afghan Taliban act on their assurances, Qureshi added.
The foreign minister's comments come days after President Arif Alvi suggested during an interview with DawnNews that the government could consider giving an amnesty to those TTP members who had not remained involved in "criminal activities" and who laid down their weapons and agreed to adhere to the Pakistani Constitution.
For years, the TTP unleashed deadly attacks on urban centres across Pakistan from their bases along the Afghan border, where they provided shelter to an array of global jihadist groups including Al Qaeda.
But a massive military offensive launched in 2014 largely destroyed the group's command and control structure, dramatically reducing insurgent violence throughout Pakistan.
Sporadic attacks targeting security forces, however, continue. Earlier this month, the TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide attack near a Frontier Corps (FC) check post in Quetta in which four paramilitary personnel were martyred and 21 others injured.
'Taliban govt concerned about brain drain'
Asked by the host Bel Trew where Pakistan stood on evacuating at-risk Afghan nationals, Qureshi said Pakistan was open to the same but that such people should talk to the new administration first.
"We are willing to help those who want to leave, [but] they have to talk to Afghan authorities because the concerns they have are 'why do they want to leave when we have announced a general amnesty and they are free to work and be paid?'" he said.
He added that the Taliban were concerned about a "brain drain" because they needed skilled people to help them run the government.
"As long as Afghan nationals can work it out with them (Taliban), Pakistan has no issues, we will facilitate."
Qureshi recalled Pakistan's cooperation in last month's evacuation out of Afghanistan, saying it had facilitated the evacuation of more than 12,000 foreign nationals as well as many Afghan nationals.
He noted that Pakistan had been hosting close to four million refugees for the past several decades "without international help" but it had "limitations".
"We don't have the capacity to absorb more ... so our position is that they (Afghans) stay in Afghanistan and are provided security and safety and as things stand at the moment, I see no reason why they can't stay in Afghanistan," he said.
He further said "people who are coming to leave will be facilitated," suggesting that a mechanism would have to be developed to distinguish between the people genuinely at risk and those wanting to leave for economic opportunities.
"If you look at people who were willing to leave, there were many who were genuinely scared and vulnerable and there were many who thought here is an opportunity for economic migration so how do you differentiate between the two?" the minister remarked.
'Accept the new reality'
On the question of recognising the Taliban government, the foreign minister noted that the Taliban had called it an interim arrangement. He said Pakistan desired that the eventual permanent government in Afghanistan was broad-based "because we feel it will give them more stability".
"But we haven't taken a decision" regarding accepting the interim government, Qureshi added. "We are watching and consulting and will decide in due course what to do."
The minister called upon the international community to accept the "new reality" in Afghanistan and work towards achieving its objectives.
"[The Taliban] have made a statement that has been viewed positively and is encouraging, what the world wants to know is whether they will implement what they are saying," he said.
"Let us nudge them in that direction that they start implementing [it], that will be good for them."