Taliban rejects reports about JeM chief Masood Azhar seeking refuge in Afghanistan

Taliban rejects reports about JeM chief Masood Azhar seeking refuge in Afghanistan

The Taliban called on all parties to refrain from allegations lacking any proof and documentations, saying that can adversely affect bilateral relations

The Taliban’s statement came after a Pakistani news channel reported that Islamabad had asked Afghanistan to trace and arrest Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar (File/PTI)

The Taliban setup in Kabul on Wednesday rejected reports that Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar has sought refuge in Afghanistan and said it will not allow any “armed opposition” groups to operate from Afghan soil.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry issued the clarification following a Pakistani media report that the Foreign Office in Islamabad had asked the Taliban to trace and arrest Azhar. The letter sent by the Pakistani side had said Azhar was believed to be in Kunar province or Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, Geo News channel reported.

The development came about a month ahead of the plenary meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which is expected to take a call on removing Pakistan from the multilateral watchdog’s “grey list” of countries under enhanced monitoring for failing to curb terror financing and money laundering.

A Taliban spokesman tweeted that the foreign ministry of Afghanistan rejects media reports that “Masood Azhar, the leader of the Pakistani Jaish-e-Mohammed group, has sought refuge in Afghanistan”.

The spokesman added, “We reiterate that [the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] does not allow any armed opposition [groups] in its territory to operate against any other country.”

The Taliban called on all parties “to refrain from such allegations lacking any proof and documentations”. Such media allegations “can adversely affect bilateral relations”, the spokesman said.

There was no immediate response to the developments from Indian officials.

The report about Pakistan approaching the Taliban to arrest the JeM chief came against the backdrop of pressure from Western powers for action against Azhar, a UN-designated terrorist leader.

Azhar formed JeM after Indian authorities freed him along with two other terrorists in exchange for the passengers of an Indian Airlines flight that was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in December 1999.

The Pakistani side reportedly informed FATF earlier this year that it had approached the Taliban in January to help locate Azhar. The JeM operates at least eight training camps in Nangarhar province, according to report by the UN sanctions monitoring committee.

Earlier this year, Western powers backed India’s call at a meeting of the FATF for action against 30 key terrorist leaders, including Azhar, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed and LeT operative Sajid Mir.

Pakistan had contended for months that Mir was dead before authorities confirmed his arrest earlier this year. Mir was subsequently convicted under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act for being a member of the banned LeT, raising funds for the group, and providing funds for terror activities.

The FATF conducted an “on-site visit” to Pakistan from August 28 to September 2 to review the country’s compliance with the multilateral watchdog’s action plans for countering terror financing and money laundering. This came ahead of Pakistan’s likely removal from FATF’s “grey list” in October.

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