ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s senior aide Sartaj Aziz has said for the first time publicly that the Afghan Taliban’s leadership enjoys a safe haven inside Pakistan, which Islamabad uses as a “lever” to pressure the group into talks with Kabul.
The admission by Sartaj Aziz comes after years of official denials by Islamabad that it offers shelter or exerts any influence over the Taliban, whose 14-year-insurgency against Afghan and NATO forces has claimed tens of thousands of civilian and military lives.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Affairs in Washington on Tuesday, he said: “We have some influence on them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities, their families are here.”
“So we can use those levers to pressurise them to say: ‘Come to the table’,” he added, according to a transcript on the think tank’s website.
The remarks confirm what has become an open secret in diplomatic circles, particularly since Pakistan began brokering direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban last summer. The negotiations faltered after Afghan intelligence leaked the news the group’s founder Mullah Omar had died in 2013.
The Taliban later confirmed they lied about Omar’s death for two years, sowing divisions among the militants and anger at his successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour for leading the cover-up.