Pakistan quietly lodges protest with Afghan Taliban over drone charge


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan may have publicly expressed concerns over the Afghan Taliban allegations that the country was allowing the US to operate drone from its soil, Islamabad has privately conveyed in categorical terms to the de facto rulers of Kabul that such public outbursts will be detrimental for the bilateral ties.

Official sources told The Express Tribune that Pakistan was dismayed by the acting Afghan defence minister’s allegations, reflecting the same mindset of the previous Afghan administrations that blamed their own follies on Islamabad.

Sources said Pakistan was not expecting such a public statement from the senior Afghan Taliban leader given the fact that Islamabad had done so much for the interim government since the Taliban returned to power.

Afghan Interim Defence Minister Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob last week alleged that Pakistan was allowing the US to operate drones from its soil.

“According to our information the drones are entering through Pakistan to Afghanistan, they use Pakistan’s airspace, we ask Pakistan, don’t use your airspace against us,” said Mullah Yaqoob, who is the son of former Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar.

Pakistan rejected Afghan Taliban government’s allegations that the country was allowing the United States to use its airspace for drones, terming the charge as defying diplomatic norms.

Responding to allegations, Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said that Pakistan had noted, with deep concern, the allegation by the acting defence minister of Afghanistan regarding use of Pakistan’s air space in the US counter-terrorism drone operation in Afghanistan.

“In the absence of any evidence, as acknowledged by the Afghan Minister himself, such conjectural allegations are highly regrettable and defy the norms of responsible diplomatic conduct,” he added.

Pakistan, he said, reaffirmed its belief in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states and condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

“We urge the Afghan interim authorities to ensure the fulfilment of international commitments made by Afghanistan not to allow the use of its territory for terrorism against any country.”

The allegation of US operating drones from Pakistan surfaced after the recent killing of al Qaeda chief Aymen al-Zawahiri in Kabul. The al Qaeda chief, who had a $25 million bounty on his head, was killed in a CIA drone strike when he was standing at the balcony of a house located in the upscale Kabul neighbourhood.

The presence and killing of Zawahiri in Kabul was embarrassing for the Afghan Taliban, who repeatedly pledged not to allow Afghan soil to be used again by terrorist groups. The Taliban in particular made a commitment in Doha to cut ties with al Qaeda.

Following the killing of Zawahiri, questions were raised which base the US had used for drone strike. Pakistan was named one suspect though Islamabad has vehemently denied its involvement. The foreign office has already clarified that neither the drone from Pakistan nor its air space wad used.

But the latest allegations from the top Taliban leader may undermine relationship between the two countries at a time when Pakistan is not happy with the continuing problem posed by outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its