Pakistani officials claim to have found evidence of ‘new sanctuaries’ set up by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates in the Afghan territory near the border with North Waziristan Agency, where a massive military operation, codenamed Zarb-e-Azb, has been ongoing since mid-June.

A senior security official told The Express Tribune that the new sanctuaries have been established to create difficulties for Pakistan’s military and disrupt Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the troubled agency. “It is a worrying development that the TTP is regrouping close to the border right under the nose of the Afghan security forces,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.

When asked, the official did not rule out the possibility of ‘tacit support’ from Afghan security agencies for the new Taliban sanctuaries. Despite repeated requests, Afghan authorities have done little to dislodge militants from their side of the Durand Line, he added. ‘The lack of action from Afghan authorities has encouraged the terrorists to carve out new sanctuaries.”

Pakistan has long urged Afghanistan to eliminate what it calls ‘safe havens’ of the TTP in northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. Fugitive TTP chief Mullah Fazllullah is also believed to be hiding in those areas. Islamabad has sought Fazllulah’s extradition from Afghanistan, but Kabul is not forthcoming to such a demand.

The Afghan inaction stems from a trust-deficit with Pakistan. While Pakistan voiced concern over Afghanistan’s reluctance to cooperate against the TTP, Kabul continues to believe that the country’s security establishment is still supporting Afghan insurgents. Recently, an acting Afghan interior minister reiterated these allegations against Pakistan while speaking at a conference in New Delhi.

However, with the formation of the new unity government led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Islamabad is hoping for a new beginning.

“I think we should give the new Afghan government a benefit of doubt. Whatever has happened at the border is due to the policies of Karzai administration,” commented another government official. He said Pakistan was looking forward to the new Afghan leadership for fresh start.

The official pointed out that Pakistan has already conveyed to the Afghan administration that it would not allow its territory to be used against any other country. “We expect the same from Kabul now,” he added.

Islamabad believes cooperation from Kabul would be crucial for eradicating the ‘terror infrastructure’ from North Waziristan.

The military on Sunday also claimed that they have killed 18 suspected terrorists during ‘precise’ aerial strikes in parts of Khyber Agency where Operation Khyber-I has been ongoing for the past few days. “A huge cache of arms and ammunition was also destroyed,” said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement.

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police chief is said to have requested the federal government for manpower to deal with security threats emanating from Operation Khyber-I.

According to documents available with Express News, intelligence agencies have warned in a report that Khyber Agency has become a safe haven for terrorists who have fled Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. They plan to use Khyber Agency as a springboard for launching attacks in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province.

The IG police highlighted the pressing need for deployment of 4,000 Frontier Constabulary personnel in the areas lying between Peshawar and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Provincial authorities, according to sources, have warned that if these areas were not secured, the terrorists might carry out a major attack in Peshawar.

Sources said that the authorities have also shared the reports of intelligence agencies with the federal interior ministry. They revealed that law enforcers have recently foiled three major terror plots and arrested suspected terrorists.

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