• Civil, military leadership issue ‘subtle warning’ to Afghan Taliban following Kabul’s reaction to Rana Sana’s ‘threat’ of cross-border action • Huddle backs road map for restoration of economic stability; provincial apex committees to be revived • Defence minister says Afghan soil being used against Pakistan despite agreement

ISLAMABAD: The Nat­ional Security Committee (NSC) on Monday categorically asked Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, without directly naming them, to deny safe haven to Pakistani terrorist groups on its soil and end their patronage, while reiterating its intent to crush terrorist groups operating inside the country with full force.

The uncharacteristically strong-worded statement issued at the end of the NSC meeting, which spanned two days, said: “Pakistan’s security is uncompromisable and the full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of the (sic) Pakistan’s territory.”

The meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by key ministers, services chiefs, and top intelligence officials, also endorsed the government’s road map for restoration of economic stability in the country.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who attended the proceedings on the first day, was absent on the second day.

The NSC, the highest civil-military forum for decisions on matters pertaining to national security, met again to deliberate on the surge in terrorist attacks and the deepening economic crisis.

Most of the attacks have been carried out by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that is not only allied with Afghan Taliban, but also enjoys safe havens and freedom to operate there.

The increase in border incidents involving Taliban forces was also discussed at the forum.

The committee agreed on a number of steps to deal with the worsening security situation, which has also drawn the attention of a number of important capitals prompting them to issue advisories for their nationals residing here.

The most important of all these actions was to send an unequivocal message to neighbouring Afghanistan to end all its support to TTP.

“No country will be allowed to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists and Pakistan reserves all rights in that respect to safeguard her people,” the NSC statement read.

The warning was sent out in the midst of an escalating war of words between the two countries over TTP and the border dispute.

Later on Monday night, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told Geo News that Afghanistan’s soil continued to be used against Pakistan, despite an agreement.

Speaking on Shahzeb Khanzada’s show, he said the Afghan government had promised that their territory wouldn’t be used against Pakistan, adding: “The Pakistani government is in constant touch with Afghanistan in connection with border violations”.

Earlier, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, in a TV interview over the weekend, had hinted that Pakistan was planning strikes against TTP hideouts in Afghanistan if Taliban authorities failed to act against the terrorist group and hand over the TTP leaders and fighters living there.

The Afghan Taliban, who brokered the failed peace talks between Pakistan government and TTP, now deny the presence of the terrorist group on its soil. On Monday, the Islamic Emirate’s defence ministry said in a statement that Sanaullah’s words were “provocative and baseless.” It further stated that Afghanistan was “ready to defend its territorial integrity and independence”.

A Doha-based Taliban official, Ahmad Yasir, was more disparaging in his comments.

“Syria and Pakistan are not Turkey to target the Kurds in Syria. Its Afghanistan, which is the graveyard of empires. Never think of a military attack on us, or else you may end up with the embarrassing repeat of the agreement with India,” he tweeted.

Apex committees

The NSC, meanwhile, decided to restore the provincial apex committees and improve the fighting capacity of law enforcement agencies particularly the provincial counter-terrorism departments as part of the steps that were to be taken internally.

It should be recalled that NSC had in its earlier meeting held on Oct 14 had also decided to revive Nawaz Sharif-Raheel Sharif-era apex committees. The latest statement was, however, more emphatic saying “Provincial Apex Committees are being revived in full earnest”.

The revival of apex committees could see increased involvement of the military officials in provincial affairs especially matters pertaining to security.

The recent incident at Counter-Terrorism Department’s interrogation centre in Bannu had exposed the shortcomings in the capacity and capabilities of the provincial apparatus.

PM Shehbaz, while underscoring ownership of counter-terrorism operations, said: “The war against terrorism will be led by federal and provincial governments as per National Action Plan in accordance with National Internal Security Policy with people centric socio-economic development as priority while Armed Forces will provide resolute deterrence and secure conducive and enabling environment.”

The NSC further emphasised zero tolerance for terrorism in the country and “reaffirmed its determination to take on any and all entities that resort to violence. This will be dealt with full force of the state.”

Statements by the NSC and the one issued by the army after the corps commanders’ conference indicate that a new kinetic operation is being planned.

In a series of tweets following the meeting, the PM Office wrote: “The National Security Committee reiterated its commitment to ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism in Pakistan, and reiterated its commitment to root out all forms of terrorism. Terrorism will be tackled with the full force of the state. State rule will be ensured on every inch of Pakistan’s land.”

The PMO also tweeted that no country would be allowed to use its land as a haven for terrorists and that “Pakistan reserves every right to defend the safety and security of its people”.

Economic crisis

The NSC agreed on several measures to halt the economic downslide including imports rationalisation, and preventing illegal currency outflows especially through hawala business.

It also approved plans for improving agricultural output and manufacturing sector to ensure food security, imports substitution and employment.

“It was resolved that people centric economic policies with trickle down effects to common people will remain priority,” NSC said, adding that all stakeholders will be involved for developing national consensus on effective and fast track economic recovery and road map.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, while sharing the government’s strategy for restoring economic stability, talked about “exploring other financial avenues based on mutual interests as well as relief measures for common people.”

This assertion was interpreted by some quarters as an indication that talks with IMF had hit a dead end.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2023

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