Photo: Pakistan ISPR

Pakistan’s Army Chief Accusing Afghanistan of Backing Baloch Insurgency: “The Whole of Afghanistan Can be Damned”

Afghanistan and Pakistan have for decades accused each other of backing insurgencies against the other. Those accusations resurfaced on Wednesday, Jan 24, in Islamabad where Pakistan’s Chief of Army criticized the country’s western neighbors for harboring the Baloch insurgency.  

General Asim Munir, Pakistan’s top military officer, was speaking to a group of students when he addressed recent regional matters, including the relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the recent exchange of missiles with Iran.

“We have never experienced true friendship from our western neighbors,” Munir said.

Many believed that with the Taliban’s return to power, Pakistan’s security establishment will have an obedient proxy force ruling over Afghanistan, cutting the influence of its archrival, India, in the region.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul, however, have soured in recent months because of rising security threats in Pakistan, its decision to expel millions of refugees back to Afghanistan, and close its border for those in the tribal belt who used to cross it without a visa.

Although the two countries have had thorny relationships over the years, the outright criticism of the Taliban by Pakistan’s highest military official is one of the firsts.

Although tensions between the two sides rose over Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an ideological Pakistani offshoot of the Taliban that fights against Islamabad, the General was furious over what he called the support from Kabul for the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). The BLA has been fighting for decades against the Pakistani state in pursuit of autonomy in the resource-rich but impoverished Balochistan province. The Pakistani government says it is supported by India, particularly in recent decades by the former American-backed government in Afghanistan.

In December 2018, a top leadership figure of the BLA, Aslam Baloch, along with five other leaders, was killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s Kandahar city.

In recent years, the BLA has gained renewed momentum, carrying out multiple deadly attacks against the country’s security forces since 2019. Pakistani officials say that the BLA has recently gained increased access to a broader array of armaments and has escalated from “hit and run” tactics to high-profile suicide attacks causing mass casualties.

In his address to students, General Munir warned that his country’s hospitality for refugees from Afghanistan must not be taken as a sign of weakness. Although Pakistan has provided food for five million Afghan nationals for 50 years, he said, they will pursue perpetrators of attacks against their people.

“when it comes to our children, we will pursue those who attack them.”

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has not yet responded to Munir’s remarks. However, they have previously rejected allegations that they harbor the TTP to fight against the Pakistani states. On multiple occasions since their return to power, the Taliban have tried to broker a peace deal between Islamabad and the TTP, but to no success yet.

Security threats have spiked to unprecedented levels in Pakistan in the past year. Experts believe the TTP’s new sanctuaries inside the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are a key contributor to those.

In efforts to reign in insecurity, Pakistan has decided since November 2023 to deport nearly 2 million refugees back to Afghanistan and apply stricter visa policies for people from Afghanistan.

“When it comes to the safety and security of every single Pakistani, the whole of Afghanistan can be damned,” Munir said.