Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch on Thursday said she requires more information before commenting on media reports alleging that senior leader of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, had previously used a Pakistani passport for international travel.
“I have just seen the report. I do not have the facts to respond to your question. Maybe I will be able to comment on some other occasion when I have more information,” she said to a question during a weekly press briefing.
Earlier, a report published in daily The News had alleged that Haqqani had used a Pakistani passport with a validity of five years to travel abroad, particularly to Qatar for negotiations with the U.S. prior to Washington’s exit from Kabul in 2021. According to the report, authorities have already arrested two officials involved in the issuance of the passport to Haqqani. The report has raised significant questions about the nature of the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Islamabad, especially as Pakistan continues to repatriate undocumented migrants, primarily Afghans, with Army chief Gen. Asim Munir on Thursday saying the policy was in Pakistan’s interest.
The briefing also addressed visits of various senior U.S. officials to Pakistan this week. “The focus of these visits is not only Afghanistan. These visits are related to multifaceted aspects of Pakistan-U.S. relations,” said the spokesperson, adding reservations of both sides are on the agenda. “We will also discuss the issues on which we have objections,” she said.
“The first two visits, including that of Special Representative Tom West, will concentrate on Afghanistan and related concerns. The agenda will broaden during discussions with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, where we aim to exchange views on Afghanistan and explore new areas of cooperation,” she explained.
According to the Foreign Office, Julieta Valls Noyes, the assistant secretary of state for the bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, visited Pakistan from Dec. 4-6, with a focus on expediting the resettlement of Afghan refugees within the U.S. immigration framework. This was followed by West, visiting Islamabad from Dec. 7-9. The third visit, from Dec. 9-12, is of Elizabeth Horst, the principal deputy assistant secretary for Pakistan, which is believed to cover a broader scope of bilateral issues.
Baloch also said American authorities have shared with Pakistan an updated list of Afghan nationals eligible for resettlement to the U.S. The matter has taken on greater urgency amidst the ongoing repatriation drive, with authorities claiming over 250,000 undocumented Afghans have already left Pakistan in the past two months.
To a question on skirmishes on the Pak-Afghan border, the spokesperson said “misunderstandings” between border authorities were not unusual. “These misunderstandings are cleared through communication channels,” she said, adding the Torkham border was reopened for all kinds of traffic on Wednesday.
Discussing the recently released U.S. Country Report on Terrorism, Baloch said Pakistan had rejected it and challenged its findings, stressing that it depicted an “outdated perspective” that did not account for ground realities. “Instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices for counterterrorism, the report peddles an outdated perspective, which is totally divorced from ground realities,” she said, adding it was also disappointing the report had failed to recognize the country’s efforts to curb terror financing.
According to the U.S. report, various groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda remain active in Afghanistan and its surrounding region. It also claimed U.S. and U.N.-designated terror groups like the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e-Mohammed remained active within Pakistan.
Israel and Palestine
During her briefing, the spokesperson reiterated condemnations of the ongoing Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip. “No place in Gaza is safe for the public,” she said and called on the U.N. Security Council to perform its primary responsibility under the Charter, impose an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and protect the people of Gaza from an impending genocide. “We call on Israel’s backers to urge Israel to end its barbaric attacks and inhumane siege against Gaza,” she said.
Baloch said Pakistan calls for an international conference for long-term peace in Palestine, reaffirming this was only possible from the internationally agreed two-state solution and “from the creation of a secure, viable, contiguous, and sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”
Pakistani citizens abroad
To a question on Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui being allegedly sexually assaulted during her incarceration in the U.S., the spokesperson said these were serious allegations. She said interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar had directed the Foreign Ministry to raise the issue with the U.S. Department of State and seek an impartial probe. “The welfare of Pakistani citizens is among our priorities,” she said.
To another question on the alleged acid attack on former special assistant to the prime minister Shahzad Akbar in London last week, she said Akbar had not sought any help from the Pakistani High Commission. Strongly rejecting allegations of involvement of Pakistani agencies in the incident, she said Islamabad had “faith” in the investigation underway by British authorities.