The US has "honest concerns" that Pakistan has been a safe haven for terrorists and the apprehensions it has had for a long time now are still valid, the Pentagon said on Thursday. In a news briefing, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that Pakistan must remember to uphold its equities and responsibilities with respect to terrorism in "that part of the world". Kirby added that the United States is well within its rights to conduct airstrikes in Afghanistan as a means to curb the terror threat, even though its ground troops left the country over a month ago ending a 20-year war.
"We've been very honest about our concerns with Pakistan for a long time, about the safe havens that exist on their side of the border along that spine. And those concerns are still valid today," Kirby was quoted as saying by the PTI news agency. He said that US leaders are keeping on their "candid conversations" with their Pakistani counterparts to make sure that as Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan continues to uphold its own "equities and responsibilities".
"I think it's important to continue to remind that the Pakistani people, likewise, have been rendered victim by terrorist threats that emanate from those groups and along that same border," the Pentagon press secretary said.
For context, Pakistan has for many years been under fire from political quarters across the globe for providing a safe haven to terrorist outfits, including al Qaeda, among others. Most recently though, the erstwhile Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan, backed by the United States, raised its concerns about Islamabad providing the Taliban terrorists with a safe haven and even medical help when needed.
The Taliban later swept Kabul in a lightning-fast offensive and seized control of the state apparatus. Soon after, top military and intelligence personnel from Pakistan were seen scheduling meetings with the Taliban leaders, and many believed that Islamabad had no less of a role to play in the blitzkrieg, a move rendered in the hope of cutting a piece of the pie in Kabul and discomforting India in the process.
But for all its ambitions, the Afghanistan manoeuvre could very well prove fatal for the Pakistani leadership; a recent report showed that terror attacks in Pakistan have increased to their highest level in more than four years after the US military withdrew from the war-torn land of Afghanistan and the Taliban seized power. According to data compiled by the South Asia terrorism portal, Pakistan saw at least 35 terror attacks that killed 52 civilians in August alone, the highest since February 2017. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, now alleges that Afghanistan harbours the anti-Pakistani group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan—the Pakistani Taliban—and also the secessionist Balochistan Liberation Army.
In its Thursday news briefing, the Pentagon took note of the rapidly evolving situation in the frontiers of Afghanistan and said that the US will continue to conduct drone strikes inside the war-ravaged country, in order to "protect the nation". "We believe we have the authorities that we need to continue to protect the nation," he said. "We have the authorities that we need to continue to defend our interests and the security of the American people there and around the world, and we're going to do that."