Pak, Afghan FMs to meet in Tibet today

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ISLAMABAD:

The foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan will hold a crucial meeting in Tibet, China, on Thursday (today) amid strained relations between the two neighbours because of a lack of action by Kabul against the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and his Afghan counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, are currently in China’s Tibet Autonomous region for the 3rd Tans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation.

A Foreign Office statement confirmed on Wednesday that Jilani would have several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the forum, including with his Chinese and Afghan counterparts. However, his meeting with Muttaqi is seen significant given the recent tensions between the two countries.

The two foreign ministers would be meeting just days after Pakistan announced a series of measures, including deportation of the Afghans living in the country illegally, and the introduction of a “One-Document Regime” for the Afghan travellers.

In addition to these measures, Pakistan has also decided to impose restrictions on the Afghan imports using transit trade facility. All these steps appeared to be linked to the current stalemate between the two countries on the outlawed TTP.

Despite Pakistan’s repeated requests, the Afghan Taliban are reluctant to act against the TTP and its sanctuaries across the border. But Pakistan’s move to launch a crackdown against illegal migrants has further deepened tensions with the Afghan Taliban government.

On Wednesday, just a day after the National Action Plan (NAP) Apex Committee decision, the Afghan Taliban termed the eviction of Afghans unacceptable. An Afghan Taliban spokesperson denied that Afghans living in Pakistan were responsible for any security threat.

Against this backdrop, the two foreign ministers would review the current situation. But given the differences, officials here are sceptical about any major breakthrough. “This is a process. One can’t expect change overnight,” said a senior official, who deals with the matter.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have been at loggerheads for months over how to deal with the TTP. Initially, Pakistan, at the request of the Afghan Taliban, held peace talks with the TTP, but the process could not move forward as the terrorist outfit continued to target security forces.

Since the change of the army command, Pakistan has hardened its stance towards the TTP. The country has made it clear that it will no longer seek any talks with the TTP and pressed the Afghan government to take decisive action against the militant outfit.

However, the Afghan Taliban government now publicly denies the presence of TTP on their soil. The Kabul regime is adamant that the TTP is an internal problem of Pakistan and has nothing to do with Afghanistan.

Currently, according to the latest United Nations figures, around 1.3 million Afghans are registered refugees in Pakistan and 880,000 more have legal status to remain in the country.

Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said on Tuesday a further 1.7 million Afghans were in Pakistan illegally.

More than 600,000 Afghans have arrived in Pakistan since the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August 2021. Bugti told the media that the Afghan nationals were responsible for 14 of 24 suicide attacks in the country since January.

As the country grapples with a rise in attacks by the militants operating from Afghanistan, the NAP apex committee set on Tuesday a November 1 deadline for the illegal Afghans to return home or face deportation, Bugti said.

However, Taliban authorities in Kabul termed the move unacceptable. “The behaviour of Pakistan against Afghan refugees is unacceptable,” Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on social media platform X. “Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems.”

Mujahid and Afghan Refugees Ministry Spokesperson Abdul Mutalib Haqqani said that Afghans had migrated to other countries for their safety and security. They stressed that as long as these refugees leave voluntarily, the country should tolerate them.

Taliban authorities have been trying to tempt back those who left, despite the nation suffering from a massive scale-back of aid following the collapse of the US-backed government. However, rights monitors have also reported reprisal killings and disappearances.

“Internally work is under way to ensure the capacity for Afghans coming back to the country, so that they live in their country in a peaceful atmosphere,” Haqqani said. “It’s natural when someone migrates to another country for his safety, he would never want insecurity there [host country],” he told AFP.

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