Pakistan’s defence and spy chiefs discuss security with Taliban

High-level delegation visits Afghanistan’s capital, days after closure of major border crossing between two countries.

Pakistan Taliban talks
The talks in Kabul on February 22, 2023, were the first high-level meeting between Pakistan and Afghanistan in months [Handout: office of Afghan deputy prime minister for economic affairs]

Islamabad, Pakistan – A senior Pakistani delegation has visited Afghanistan’s capital for talks with Taliban officials, days after the closure of their busiest border crossing raised tensions between the two countries.

Pakistani Defence Minister Khwaja Asif was joined on Wednesday by other top officials – including Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, the director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI – in their meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Afghanistan acting deputy prime minister for economic affairs, in Kabul.

In a statement, Baradar’s office said the officials discussed economic cooperation, regional connectivity, trade and their countries’ relations.

Baradar said in the statement that political and security concerns should not affect business or economic matters.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan are neighbours and should get along well,” he said. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan emphasizes the development of commercial and economic ties with Pakistan as they are in the interest of both countries.”

Four days earlier, Afghan authorities closed the Torkham border crossing, accusing Pakistan of not abiding by its commitments. Pakistan in recent weeks has tightened border controls due to security concerns.

Security forces deployed at the border exchanged fire on Monday, which wounded one Pakistani guard.

Sources at Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Al Jazeera on Monday that they were not informed by their Afghan counterparts why the border point, the busiest transit route for travellers and trade between the two neighbours, had been closed.

“There is an understanding reached at the highest level that border crossings will not be closed by either side,” a diplomatic source said. “We will further comment on this development once we are approached by the Afghan interim authorities in Kabul.”

As of Wednesday, thousands of trucks remained stranded on both sides of the border. Many carried perishable goods.

Pakistan Taliban talks
Pakistani delegation in Kabul [Handout: office of Afghan deputy prime minister for economic affairs]

The meeting in Kabul also was held as Pakistan faces a dramatic surge in violence after the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, ended a months-long ceasefire with Pakistan’s government, which had been negotiated by the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP is allied with the Afghan Taliban, but the two groups maintain separate structures. Pakistani officials have previously alleged that armed groups are launching attacks on their country from Afghanistan. The Taliban has denied those accusations.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, said on Saturday that the “security and terrorist threat emanating” from Afghanistan was the most important issue in the region.

“The concern is that if we and the interim government don’t take these groups seriously and they don’t demonstrate the will and the capacity to take on terrorist groups, then they will conduct terrorist activities in the region first – we are already witnessing an uptick in terrorist activity in Pakistan since the fall of Kabul – but it won’t be long before it reaches somewhere else,” Bhutto-Zardari said at the Munich Security Conference.

The Afghan government pushed back against his statement and said Pakistan should discuss bilateral issues face-to-face instead of “complaining at international conferences”.

Pakistani security analyst Amir Rana said the first high-level meeting between the two sides in months was “very encouraging” despite the recent increase in tensions.

“It was important to visit and see what the sentiment in Kabul is and what level of cooperation can take place,” Rana told Al Jazeera.

He added, however, “There is no consensus in Pakistan on what their Afghan policy should be.”

Saad Muhammad, a defence analyst and a former Pakistani military attaché to Kabul, concurred that the country did not have a settled Afghan policy and argued that “appeasement” would not work.

“Pakistan’s security is our problem solely,” he told Al Jazeera. “We need to raise the cost of confrontation to a point which makes it unaffordable for the adversary, and only then, they will sit and talk.”

Muhammad criticised the delegation’s visit to Kabul and said Pakistan has acted timidly.

“You can send 10 delegations, but if the adversary knows you are weak, it will not work,” he said. “We must uproot the cause of the violence.”

Source: Al Jazeera