ISLAMABAD: In the backdrop of an uptick in terror attacks in Pakistan, which are blamed on militants operating from Afghan­istan, Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani on Thursday met his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi in Tibet to take stock of challenges confronting regional peace and stability.

“FM Jilani is in China on a two-day visit to participate in the third Trans-Himalayan Forum for International Cooperation, being held in Nyingchi, Tibet autonomous region, from October 4-5,” Dawn.com reported.

According to a statement issued by the foreign ministry: “FM reaffirmed commitment to further strengthen bilateral ties with Afghanistan. Underscored that challenges confronting regional peace and stability be addressed in collaborative spirit through collective strategies.”

The meeting between the top envoys — the first such official interaction between the two countries since September, when envoy Asif Durrani visited Kabul — comes on the heels of a nationwide drive against undocumented refugees, majorly Afghan citizens, and back-to-back attacks in peripheral cities — Hangu and Mastung — in which dozens of lives were lost.

FO says crackdown on undocumented immigrants not aimed at any ethnic group

These attacks prompted strong statements from Pakistani officials, including the interior minister, who — after a high-level meeting at Quetta Corps Commander Headquarters — said Islamabad would strike the bases of terrorists, be it the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan or the militant Islamic State group.

Before these incidents, security forces repulsed a cross-border attack in Chitral last month. At least four soldiers had embraced martyrdom while more than 16 fighters were killed in the attack, prompting Pakistan to issue a demarche to the Afghan charge d’affaires.

The Taliban administration’s failure to rein in militants ostensibly drew a statement from the US, saying Washington would help Islamabad counter all forms of violent extremism. US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller had said: “And we will continue to work with Pakistan to ensure that we can better assist Pakistan’s efforts to counter all forms of violent extremism.”

A day after the statement of the US official offering help in the fight against terrorism, Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir also talked to the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, to discuss “recent regional developments” in a telephone call. “Secretary Austin and Gen. Munir discussed areas of mutual interest as well as recent regional developments,” said a statement by the US department. There was no statement from the ISPR, army’s media wing.

FO denies ethnic profiling

As it urged the international community to make conditions conducive for the voluntary return of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, Foreign Office Spokesperson Zahra Mumtaz Baloch said the crackdown on undocumented immigrants was not aimed at any particular ethnic group.

At a weekly press briefing, she said the decision was aimed at “regulating illegal aliens” residing in Pakistan, irrespective of their nationality. “...Pakistan is well within the parameters of its sovereign domestic laws to act in this context,” she remarked. The spokesperson explained the decision was not targeted at Afghan refugees.

“As the situation in Afghanistan stabilises, we believe that it is the right time to upscale international efforts to create conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees with honour and dignity,” she remarked.

She said the repatriation exercise will be undertaken in a “phased, deliberate and orderly manner”.

The process will proceed depending on the number of “illegal immigrants in Pakistan and the arrangements” for their return to their respective countries.

Threat of terror

She said Pakistan has very clearly articulated its concerns about the threat of terrorism that it faces emanating from Afghanistan. This statement has been made by Pakistan on several occasions, including at international conferences and forums.

“At the same time, we believe in diplomacy and dialogue, and we will continue to engage with Afghan authorities to fight this threat and to ensure that Afghan soil is not used to foment terrorism against Pakistan,” she stressed. She also termed reports about the closure of the Afghan transit trade as baseless.

“Pakistan - Afghanistan bilateral trade and transit trade continue to take place. What Pakistan has said is that we would not accept the misuse of existing trade facilities, including transit trade facilities. Any measures taken recently or to be taken in the coming days will be in accordance with this understanding,” Ms Baloch said.

She also confirmed receipt of a formal communication from the Election Commission of Pakistan on the matter related to invitations to international election observers. She underlined that this was not the first time that elections would be conducted in Pakistan.

“In accordance with the policy and past practice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will work closely with the Election Commission of Pakistan in facilitating the process and inviting international observers for the upcoming general elections,” she added.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2023

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