KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan demonstrators protested outside the Pakistani embassy in Kabul on Thursday as senior Afghan officials said they had handed over evidence connecting insurgents based in Pakistan with a recent spate of attacks that killed more than 100 people.
The protest, in which dozens of people burnt flags and chanted, “Death to Pakistan”, was not large, but it came during a period of heightened tension in the Afghan capital following two major attacks in the past two weeks.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Wais Barmak and Masooom Stanekzai, head of the NDS intelligence service, returned from a visit to Islamabad, where they had pressed Pakistani authorities to move against Taliban leaders based in the country.
“We provided Pakistan with documents about Taliban operating centres inside Pakistan and we expect Pakistan to act against them,” Barmak told a news conference in Kabul.
He declined to provide details on the information provided, citing the need to keep operational intelligence secret while investigations continued.
The officials said Pakistan had agreed to take “practical steps” to act on the information but that was immediately disputed by Pakistani authorities, who said only that the information was “being examined for its authenticity”.
“Pakistan has not given any commitment to give reply to the information received from the NDS Chief Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, during his trip to Islamabad, yesterday,” the Pakistan Embassy said in a statement.
A Pakistani security delegation is due to visit Kabul on Saturday but the embassy denied that the visit was a followup to the Afghan officials’ visit to Islamabad. It said the visit was part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity, a bilateral program running since November.
The visits come as the United States has cut off some aid to Pakistan over what it calls its failure to crack down on militants attacking in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to Taliban and other insurgents, a charge Pakistan denies, pointing to the thousands of casualties it has suffered from militant violence over the years.
Last month, the Taliban claimed two major attacks in Kabul, one on the Intercontinental Hotel, which killed more than 30 people and a second that killed more than 100 people when an ambulance packed with explosives blew up on a crowded street.
The attacks in the heavily protected city center fueled fresh worries about the Western-backed government’s ability to provide security and combat the Taliban insurgency.
On Thursday, the defense ministry issued a statement that dismissed as “exaggerated” a BBC report that the Taliban were operating in 70 percent of Afghanistan and said the army was involved in 14 separate operations.
But despite a sharp rise in U.S. air strikes that commanders say have put heavy pressure on the Taliban and driven them back from major provincial centres, their ability to strike urban targets and undermine confidence in the government appears unaffected.
Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez