Washington: Pakistan continues to focus on countering Indian influence in Afghanistan and harbours the Taliban and groups such as the Haqqani Network, which have the ability to engage in violence on Afghan soil, says a new Pentagon report.
The report by the inspector general of the US Department of Defense for the January-March quarter, issued on May 18, pointed to a continuation of Pakistan’s efforts to achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan, including shutting out India from the war-torn country.
The report is the first one to be issued since the US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 29 to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. The deal has stalled due to differences between the Taliban and the Afghan government on prisoner releases and intra-Afghan dialogue.
There was no immediate response to the report from Indian officials.
“According to the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], Pakistan’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan continue to be countering Indian influence and mitigating spillover of instability into its territory,” the report said.
“The DIA reported that Pakistan likely views increased Taliban influence in Afghanistan as supporting its overall objectives and will seek to influence intra-Afghan peace talks in a direction favourable to Pakistan.”
The DIA also reported to the inspector general that “Pakistan has encouraged the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks, but refrained from applying coercive pressure that would seriously threaten its relationship with the Afghan Taliban to dissuade the group from conducting further violence”.
The DIA also told the inspector general that “Pakistan continues to harbour the Taliban and associated militant groups in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network, which maintains the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan interests”.
Indian and Afghan officials have for long accused the Taliban particularly its sword arm the Haqqani Network of having close links to the Pakistani military leadership. Most of the Taliban leadership and their families continue to be based in Pakistani cities such as Quetta.
The report comes at a time when the US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has called on India to hold direct talks with the Taliban. However, the Trump administration’s outgoing pointperson for South Asia, Alice Wells, said on that it was up to India to take a call on engaging with the Taliban.
In his message in the report, Sean O’Donnell, the acting inspector general of the US department of defense, said: “The United States and Taliban agreed to a [one]-week reduction in violence prior to the signing of the agreement, but Taliban violence during the quarter overall was high.
“In January and February, both the United States and the Taliban increased operations in order to influence negotiations. In addition, while the Taliban reduced attacks against US and coalition forces, it continued to attack the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, particularly after the signing of the agreement.”
The department of defense didn’t provide information on Taliban-initiated attack for the January-March quarter, saying this was “sensitive” as it was part of ongoing deliberations on whether the Taliban is complying with the terms of the agreement with the US.