WASHINGTON – Afghan Taliban and their local associates are active in Pakistan’s border regions, local sources told VOA, as Pakistan has acknowledged that bodies of militants killed in Afghanistan arrive in Pakistan, and wounded Taliban are treated in local hospitals.
In a June 27 interview with Geo News, a local Pakistani channel, Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed admitted that the Afghan Taliban’s families reside in Pakistan, adding that “sometimes their dead bodies arrive, and sometimes they come here in hospitals to get medical treatments.”
Locals and eyewitnesses on the ground with knowledge of Taliban activities in Pakistan have confirmed to VOA that the militants enjoy sanctuaries in Pashtun areas of Balochistan province.
A resident of Kuchlak, 25 kilometers from the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, told VOA that not only do the Taliban have their bases in madrasas and seminaries in the Pakistani province, but they also “collect donations in the mosques.”
The resident, who did not want to be named because he fears retaliation by the militants, said some residents of the town of Kuchlak are in the ranks of the Taliban.
“Locals from all the tribes (living in the town) are with them, saying that they are conducting jihad to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” he added.
Kuchlak is home to several madrasas and seminaries linked to the Taliban. In August 2019, the younger brother of Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was among four killed in a bomb blast in a seminary mosque in the town.
The Afghan government and the U.S. have long blamed Pakistan for not acting against the Afghan Taliban’s sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Pakistani officials had repeatedly denied the presence of the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. However, in an interview with local Afghan TV, Tolo News last month, Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmoud Qureshi blamed the porous border and millions of Afghans living in Pakistan for the presence of the Taliban in the country.
“Once they’ve gone back, and then there is cross border movement, we can be held more responsible for that,” Qureshi said.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported Sunday that police in the city of Peshawar are investigating videos shared on social media, showing a group of people on motorcycles holding Taliban flags and chanting for the militants during a funeral.
The resident of Panjpai, a village near Afghanistan 85 kilometers west of Quetta, told VOA that funerals and prayers for those killed in the fighting in Afghanistan are regularly held in the town.
“Funerals are held. (The Taliban) make speeches at funerals and congratulate families for their martyrs,” he said.
He added that a funeral and prayers were held for the son of a tribal leader who was killed while fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“He and his father were both with the Taliban. His father returned home for Eid, but his son stayed in Afghanistan and was killed.” the resident said, adding that locals claimed (the son) “was killed in a drone attack.”
In videos shared on social media and obtained by VOA, hundreds of people took part in the funeral where the Taliban’s white flags were displayed.
VOA could not independently verify the authenticity of the posted videos.
A local journalist who also requested anonymity said slain Taliban are brought to be buried in cemeteries in Quetta and surrounding areas, including Kuchlak, Duki and Pishin.
“Prayers are held in the mosques. Everyone in the area knows it,” the journalist said.
Sayed Nazir, a retired brigadier general of the Pakistani army, said “Pakistan has admitted” to the presence of the Taliban in Pakistan.
“Their houses, their families or their children (are in Pakistan). They have access to education and health care,” said Nazir, adding that Pakistan has leverage over the group.
In an interview with The New York Times last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan used its leverage on the Taliban to bring the militant group to the negotiating table with the U.S. and the Afghan government.
“(I)t was (us) really pushing them, pressurizing them to talk to the Afghan government,” said Khan.
But he added that Pakistan’s “leverage diminished on the Taliban,” as the U.S. announced the withdrawal of its remaining forces from Afghanistan by September 11, which is now more than 90% complete.
Violence in Afghanistan has surged, and the Taliban have captured about 100 districts from Afghan government forces.
The Afghan government has since vowed to retake the lost districts, accusing Pakistan and foreign militants of supporting the Taliban in their offensives.
In a tweet Monday, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said some of the Taliban fighting Afghan security forces are trained by the Pakistani military and “directed from Peshawar, Quetta and other areas (in Pakistan).”
Pakistan has rejected any involvement in the Afghan conflict.
Some local Afghan officials have also told VOA’s Pashto service that foreign fighters are among the Taliban fighting Afghan forces.
A new United Nations report released last month said the Afghan Taliban have not fulfilled promises to cut ties with al-Qaida. The report charged that al-Qaida is active in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and operates under the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“The group is reported to be such an ‘organic’ or essential part of the insurgency that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate it from its Taliban allies,” the report said.
The report added that most of the members of al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent are Afghans and Pakistanis.
Colin Clarke, senior fellow at the Soufan Center, said it will be “difficult to defeat” al-Qaida if it becomes “predominately (an) Afghan-Pakistani phenomenon.”
“That is extremely worrisome for the durability and longevity groups like al-Qaida, particularly in South Asia,” said Clarke. He added that without troops on the ground, the U.S. will not have the same leverage.
“If Afghanistan does descend back into a civil war, the Taliban need al-Qaida. They need to team up with them against the Afghan government, against potential rivals like Islamic State,” he said.
Marvin Weinbaum, director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, echoed Clarke’s assessment.
“Once the Taliban control, they have no incentive to stop these forces (from) carrying insurgency elsewhere,” he said.