Defence Minister Asserts No Desire for Armed Conflict with Afghanistan

In a recent interview with Voice of America, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif clarified that Islamabad has no intention of engaging in an armed conflict with Afghanistan. This statement comes amid escalating tensions between the two neighbouring countries, primarily due to the increasing number of terrorist attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other banned outfits based in Afghanistan.

Asif emphasized that force is the last resort, and Pakistan does not wish to have an armed conflict with Afghanistan. He expressed concern over the increasing cross-border attacks from militant groups residing inside Afghanistan. The minister urged the Afghan interim government to control the TTP and prevent them from instigating a war with Pakistan.

On Monday, Pakistan carried out intelligence-based operations targeting TTP’s Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, which is responsible for the March 16 attack in Mir Ali, North Waziristan, and multiple other terrorist attacks in the country. This action was a response to a deadly attack on Pakistani forces, which resulted in the martyrdom of seven soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel and captain.

Pakistan has repeatedly called on the Afghan interim government to prevent its soil from being used against Pakistan by the TTP and other militant organizations. However, these claims have been vehemently denied by Kabul.

Asif termed Pakistan’s military action inside Afghanistan as a necessary message against increasing cross-border terrorism. He warned that if the TTP continues its attacks, Islamabad will be forced to retaliate.

The Defence Minister also discussed the prospects of bilateral trade and the possibility of providing an economic corridor to landlocked Afghanistan. However, he questioned why Islamabad should entertain such a possibility if the neighbouring country treats it "like an enemy".

According to Voice of America, around 5,000 to 6,000 TTP fighters reside in Afghanistan after being driven out of Pakistani territory due to the military’s wide-scale anti-terror operation in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan. United Nations’ assessments also confirm TTP’s presence in Afghanistan.

Asif expressed his views on TTP’s presence inside Afghanistan, stating that the militant group was “being allowed” to operate as part of the interim Afghan government’s bid to prevent its fighters from joining IS-Khorasan Province (ISKP) — a rival group which has been engaged in armed conflict with the Afghan regime.

The Defence Minister’s remarks come at a time when the relations between Islamabad and Kabul are strained due to the increasing cross-border attacks. The situation necessitates a diplomatic solution to ensure peace and stability in the region.

The Defence Minister’s statement underscores Pakistan’s commitment to peace and its desire to maintain good relations with its neighbours. However, the increasing cross-border attacks and the presence of TTP in Afghanistan pose significant challenges to this commitment. It remains to be seen how both countries will navigate these challenges and work towards ensuring regional peace.

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