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Sartaj Aziz met Afghanistan NSA

16 March, 2017

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LONDON: The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has met Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, Hanif Atmar, in London to discuss complaints that Afghan-based militants are mounting attacks on Pakistani soil.

It was the highest level face-to-face discussion between representatives of the two countries since Islamabad closed down border crossings with Afghanistan. The two men were hosted by the UK’s National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant.

Last month the Pakistan military shelled a militant training camp on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. Military sources said the militants it targeted — within a few hundred metres of the border — were from Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Complaining about a breach of its sovereignty, the Afghan foreign ministry said Pakistan should stop all cross-border military activity.

The British Foreign Office refused to comment on the meeting in London but it believed the three men discussed Pakistani complaints that Afghan-based militants had been mounting attacks on Pakistani soil. Pakistan has blamed the recent Lahore and Sehwan attacks on Afghan-based militants. The UK is hoping to defuse tensions between the two countries.

A month after they were first closed down, official border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain shut after the end of a two-day window that allowed some urgent medical cases to travel and enabled stranded people to get back to their homes. Tighter Pakistan physical and radar-based controls along the 1100km border between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Afghanistan have made it more difficult for people to cross without going through official crossing points.

The closure of the border has caused heavy financial losses for traders in both countries. Afghanistan depends on Pakistani ports for its imports. Since the border closure thousands of shipping containers have been stuck in Karachi.

The London meeting comes at a time when Kabul-Islamabad relations are deteriorating. Sartaj Aziz has spoken of the need for a comprehensive bilateral engagement between the two countries to rebuild trust and confidence.

Pakistani officials sometimes concede that Afghanistan does not have the capacity to control activities of militants based in eastern Afghanistan. But they also blame Afghanistan for allowing the sanctuaries of what Islamabad increasingly describes as “Indian-backed” militant groups to have become established on Afghan soil.

Having for years been the subject of complaints about Pakistan- based militant hitting targets in India and Afghanistan, Islamabad is now making the mirror complaint about Afghan- based militants hitting targets in Pakistan.

Many of the militants are in Afghanistan after they fled from North Waziristan during Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Fighters from Al Qaeda, militant Islamic State group, the Haqqani Network, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban are all intermingling in eastern Afghanistan and sometimes cooperating with each other. Sir Mark Lyall Grant became the first British national security adviser in 2015. He was the UK’s high commissioner to Pakistan between 2003 and 2006.

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