ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch on Thursday cautiously addressed media reports alleging that Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghan Taliban’s Interior Minister and a senior leader of the Haqqani Network, in the past used a Pakistani passport for international travel.

Responding to queries at the weekly media briefing, Ms Baloch said: “I have just seen the report. I do not have the facts to respond to your question. Maybe I will be able to comment on some other occasion when I have more information.”

The revelation about Haqqani’s use of a Pakistani passport has raised serious questions about the nature of the relationship between the Taliban-led Afghan government and Pakistan.

Haqqani, known for his role in the Haqqani Network, reportedly used this passport for his travels, particularly to Qatar for key negotiations with the United States. These talks were instrumental in signing the Doha Agreement, which led to the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin Haqqani reportedly used the passport for his international travels, particularly to Qatar, for talks with US

The scandal extends beyond Haqqani, with reports indicating that approximately 30,000 to 40,000 Pakistani passports were issued to Afghan nationals. These passports were distributed from various cities of Pakistani provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh.

In response to this discovery, the Pakistani government has reportedly arrested two officials allegedly involved in issuing the passport to Haqqani.

The government, through the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), has also blocked and cancelled the passports issued to Afghan nationals, including Haqqani’s.

Pak-US talks

In the briefing, the FO spokesperson also told reporters about the Pakistan-US talks.

In a series of high-level meetings scheduled in the coming days, Pakistan and the United States are set to discuss a range of critical issues, primarily focusing on the situation in Afghanistan and the challenges facing Afghan immigrants in Pakistan.

Commenting on the upcoming visits of US officials, Ms Baloch said: “The first two visits, including that of Special Representative Tom West, will concentrate on Afghanistan and related concerns. The agenda will broaden during discussions with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, where we aim to exchange views on Afghanistan and explore new areas of cooperation.”

Julieta Valls Noyes, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, visited Pakistan from Dec 4 to 6. Noyes is tasked with discussing the shared objective of protecting vulnerable individuals and expediting the resettlement of Afghan refugees within the US immigration framework.

Following Noyes, Thomas West, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan, will visit Islamabad from December 7 to 9. His visit is anticipated to delve into the intricate aspects of the Afghan situation, including the ongoing political and security challenges in the region.

The final visit of this series, from December 9 to 12, will be by Elizabeth Horst, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pakistan. This visit is expected to cover a broader scope of bilateral issues, indicating a comprehensive approach towards enhancing Pakistan-US relations.

These meetings are a part of ongoing diplomatic engagements between the two nations, amidst a backdrop of critical regional developments.

Terrorism report rejected

Ms Baloch, during the briefing, also touched upon the issue of the recent US Country Report on Terrorism.

Pakistan has rejected the report, challenging its findings and emphasising the country’s significant sacrifices and efforts in combating terrorism.

The FO spokesperson criticised the report for presenting an “outdated perspective” that fails to recognise the ground realities in Pakistan.

“Instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices for counterterrorism, the report peddles an outdated perspective, which is totally divorced from ground realities,” Ms Baloch said.

According to the US report, groups like militant Islamic State (IS), Al Qaeda, and others continue to be active in Afghanistan and the region. It also noted the continued operation of UN- and US-designated terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) within Pakistani soil. However, Pakistan refutes these claims, asserting that it has taken significant steps to proscribe terrorist organisations and prosecute their leaders.

On the issue of terror financing, the FO spokesperson expressed disappointment over the report’s failure to recognise the country’s efforts and reforms to control financing for terrorism.

“Pakistan’s performance has received international appreciation, and Pakistan has undertaken serious reforms to enhance the conviction rate of terror financing cases,” Ms Baloch said, adding that the US report retains outdated language without considering recent developments.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

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