WASHINGTON/ISLAMABAD: Days after US President Joe Biden announced Ayman al Zawahiri’s killing by a drone strike in Kabul, the Taliban said on Thursday they had no knowledge of the Al Qaeda chief’s presence in Afghanistan,.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no information about Ayman al Zawahiri’s arrival and stay in Kabul,” AFP quoted an official statement as saying — the Taliban’s first mention of his name since Biden’s announcement.

Zawahiri’s assassination is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and calls into question the Taliban’s promise not to harbour militant groups.

Thursday’s carefully phrased Taliban statement neither confirmed his presence in Afghanistan nor acknowledged his death.

“The leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghani­stan has instructed the intelligence agencies to hold a comprehensive and serious investigation,” it said.

“The fact that America invaded our territory and violated all international principles, we strongly condemn the action once again. If such action is repeated, the responsibility of any consequences will be on the United States of America.”

The Taliban reiterated in their statement that there was “no threat” to any country from Afghanistan’s soil.

They called on Washington to adhere to the Doha pact signed in February 2020 that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, ending two decades of US-led military intervention in the country.

Taliban ‘bound’ by Doha deal

Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US special representative who negotiated the Doha agreement with the Taliban, has said the deal binds Kabul’s present rulers to keep anti-American terrorist groups out of their country.

A day after the drone strike, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Taliban of “grossly violating the [Doha] agreement — and repeated assurances to the world that they would not harbor extremists” like Zawahiri.

Mr Khalilzad, however, told National Public Radio (NPR) that Mr Blinken was correct, and the Taliban’s claim was “obviously wrong”.

“The agreement is clear. That’s in black and white,” he said.

But Graeme Smith, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group (ICG), told Voice of America that the Doha agreement was not very clear on certain points. “One of the many problems with the Doha Agreement was the lack of mechanisms for arbitration and enforcement. There is no referee, and no specific consequences for any violations,” he said.

“So, there is nobody who can say whether the agreement is broken, and the consequences would be unclear.”

No evidence Pakistani airspace used: FO

Also on Thursday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said there was no evidence that the country’s airspace had been used for the drone strike that killed Ayman al Zawahiri.

Responding to a volley of questions about media reports claiming that the strike was carried out through intelligence sharing between Pakistan and US, and that the drone used Pakistani air space, he remarked: “There is no evidence of this action having been undertaken using Pakistan’s airspace”.

He also referred to an earlier statement issued by the Foreign Office on the incident, which had said that “Pakistan stands by countering terrorism in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions”.

But when journalists recalled the prior statement, asking whether he was referring to UN resolutions that authorised action inside Afghanistan few years back, the spokesperson said “We are referring to various resolutions of the UN on countering terrorism, and they encompass different aspects of counter-terrorism”.

He said there were various international obligations under these resolutions.

“Regarding Al-Qaeda, I think it is clear that it is a terrorist entity, which is listed under the UN Security Council sanctions regime and states are under obligation to take actions that are prescribed by the UN Security Council”.

He recalled that Pakistan had, in the past, taken resolute action and supported the efforts of the international community in fighting terrorism and particularly, some of the notable success against Al Qaeda was possible because of Pakistan’s role and contribution.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2022

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