PESHAWAR: Acknowledging that the activities by an outlawed militant organisation inside Pakistan were leading the international community to point fingers at Afghanistan, a senior Afghan Taliban leader on Wednes­day urged the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamabad to sit together and negotiate for peace.

“We ask the government of Pakistan and advise the brothers (TTP) who are fighting with them to come together and talk,” Muhammad Nabi Omari, deputy interior minister of the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan told an iftar gathering in the southeastern Khost town.

The Afghan Taliban have been privately urging Pakistan and the TTP to engage in direct negotiations to end over a two-decade-long conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and seen massive displacement of people in the tribal region straddling Afghanistan.

But this marks the first time a senior Afghan Taliban figure has chosen to publicly speak on the subject, not only calling for direct engagement between Islamabad and the TTP, but also chiding the militant conglomerate.

In rare remarks, Omari says escalation of conflict in Pakistan also affects situation in Afghanistan

Attempts by the Afghan interim regime to “facilitate” talks between the two sides in the past have ended in deadlock, prompting Islamabad to accuse Kabul of providing sanctuary and urging it to take action against the militant organisation.

The Afghan Taliban have strenuously denied that the TTP is using the Afghan soil and have been urging Pakistan to look inward to address its internal security problems.

Relations between the two countries have been strained ever since Pakistan carried out airstrikes in Khost and Paktika in retaliation for the death of seven of its soldiers in a suicide bombing in North Waziristan in March.

“We have seen war and revolution”, Omari was quoted by Afghan media outlet ToloNews as saying. “These wars and revolutions leave behind widows and orphans, destroy homeland and ruin the economy,” he said.

“Now the world makes excuses that terrorists are present here [in Afghanistan] and Al Qaeda exists”, the deputy interior minister said. “I swear, based on our information… there is not a single Al-Qaeda member in Afghanistan”, Omari said.

The deputy interior minister however, did not address the presence of TTP in Afghanistan.

Omari cautioned Islamabad and the TTP that both sides could not win the war. Citing the Afghan Taliban experience, the senior Taliban figure said that even if Pakistan had a ten million strong army, it could not eliminate its opponents.

Likewise, he said, the TTP too could not win this war. He said that the Afghan Taliban could win the war because the whole Afghan nation was behind them, supporting them with food and shelter.

“And to our brothers (the TTP), whatever, they may call it – jihad or war, we don’t meddle in their affairs, if they are fighting against the system (state), even if you fight the system for hundred years … you cannot win”, he said, citing the Afghan Taliban experience.

In the same breath, Omari again chided the TTP without naming them, that it possibly did not enjoy mass support amongst the Pakistani population.

“We have got nothing to do it with it,” he said, adding quickly “but we are getting the heat for it”, in a short video posted on social media. “The escalation of conflict in Pakistan affects the situation in Afghanistan”.

It was not immediately clear what prompted a high profile figure to speak on an issue, which the Kabul leadership has been shying away from discussing publicly citing its sensitivity.

Pakistan’s stated policy has thus far been that it would not engage in any direct talks with the TTP and that the Afghan interim regime is bound under the terms of Doha agreement to take action against the outfit.

A highly placed source said that Pakistan had collected evidence of the TTP’s involvement in the killing of Chinese workers in Besham, which would be shared with Beijing, which is likely to take it up with Kabul.

China has been a major investor in Afghanistan and has senior level diplomatic presence in both countries, recently having formally accepted the credentials of Kabul’s ambassador.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

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