Taliban defence minister accuses Pakistan of allowing US drones to use its airspace

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The Taliban’s acting defence minister on Sunday accused Pakistan of allowing US drones to use its airspace to access Afghanistan, an allegation that has been vehemently refuted by Pakistan authorities.

Narrating the one-year performance of the Taliban government, which took control of Afghanistan last year, at a press conference in Kabul, acting defence minister Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob said, “We hadn’t caught all routes of the drones but our intelligence reported that US drones were entering through Pakistan. We demand that Pakistan does not allow its air space to be used by the US.”

Yaqub added that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) radar system was destroyed when the US troops evacuated the country in August last year but intelligence sources suggest that US drones were entering through Pakistan. “The United States is grossly violating Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the Doha agreement,” he added.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment.

While taking questions from reporters, Yaqoob said investigation of the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman-al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a CIA drone strike carried out in Kabul on July 31, is still underway and his body is yet to be recovered.

The Al-Qaeda chief’s killing indicates that the US has over-the-horizon capability to take out high-value targets and importantly without having any US footprints on the ground in Afghanistan. His killing has raised questions about how the CIA executed the operation.

Pakistani authorities have previously denied involvement in or advanced knowledge of the drone strike the US claimed to have carried out, which led to Zawahiri’s death.

“I really don’t believe that this is a time that I wish to get into a debate with anyone or to have accusations … I’m focused on the flood relief efforts,” Bhutto-Zardari said in an interview, referring to rain-induced floods in Pakistan that have killed over 900 people and have left millions homeless.

“The Afghan regime has promised not only to its own people, but to the international community, that they will not allow their soil to be used for terrorists,” said Yaqub.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry released a statement saying it noted Yaqoob’s comments with “deep concern”.

“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,” the statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the Taliban “grossly violated” a 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of U.S-led forces from Afghanistan by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.

Yaqoob’s comments could exacerbate tensions between Afghanistan and its neighbour at a time when the Afghan Taliban is mediating talks between Islamabad and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a Pakistani Taliban militant group.

The TTP has been responsible for numerous attacks inside Pakistan, including an attack on a school in Peshawar that killed 149, as well as attacks on soldiers and military checkpoints.

In May, negotiations brokered by the Taliban lead to a “permanent-ceasefire” between Pakistan and the TTP. Afghanistan, which is undergoing an acute economic crisis, also relies heavily on trade with Pakistan.

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