Both the Army chief and the ISI chief stated that Pakistan would be the first country to recognise a Taliban government once it came to power in Kabul

New Delhi: The 1 July off-camera, eight-hour interaction between Pakistani parliamentarians and Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was accompanied by Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, revolved extensively around the topic of Afghanistan and Taliban. The interaction took place at the Parliament House in Islamabad, and as per information accessed by The Sunday Guardian, the Pakistani Army Chief stated that they would be among the first to recognise the Taliban government in Kabul once they (the Taliban) came to power. This announcement was opposed by MPs, including Leader of Opposition, Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who stated that Pakistan should not recognise a government that came to power at gunpoint.

This important policy decision was indicated by the ISI chief at a gathering where Prime Minister Imran Khan was not present, which shows how strongly entrenched the Pakistan military is when it comes to major political decisions that are taken in the country.

Pakistan’s spy chief Faiz Hameed apparently told the parliamentarians that Taliban’s control in Afghanistan was increasing rapidly and as this control grew, also growing was Pakistan’s control over them (Taliban).

According to one source present in the meeting, the DG ISI said, “We did everything for the Taliban, provided them with full facilities and contacted the US on their behalf.”

While Hameed briefed the MPs, the Army Chief answered questions from MPs in the question-and-answer session.

In addition to the 29 members of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, 16 legislators were invited to the meeting, as well as the heads of all parliamentary parties in the National Assembly and Senate and Chief Ministers of the four provinces.

Before the meeting started, the mobile phones of the MPs were confiscated by the security establishment to ensure that the developments remained undocumented and unrecorded and nothing said inside the parliament halls during those eight hours could be proved later.

The duo, Hameed and Bajwa, also told the MPs about the multiple internal and external challenges that the Imran Khan government was facing. The tone and tenor of the statement made by Bajwa, sources said, indicated that the Army Chief was not happy with the way the Imran Khan government was functioning.

To a question raised by a few MPs on whether India and Taliban were talking, spy chief Faiz Hameed said that they were “keeping an eye on it”, while indicating that some informal interactions had taken place between Indian and Taliban representatives. Sources said that one of the interesting aspects of the meeting was that while the Army Chief was speaking, government members and PTI ministers were listening to him as attentively as if their Prime Minister Imran Khan was speaking.

Although the MPs were told that the discussion would be about the internal security of Pakistan, Kashmir and “terrorism” in Baluchistan, only issues related to Afghanistan were discussed prominently.

During the meeting, the parliamentarians asked the military leadership whether the United States was seeking bases in Pakistan. To this, the duo stated that they were not going to give any military base to the US, but US forces would be using Pakistani airspace. “We will not stop them because we have had an agreement with them since the time of General Pervez Musharraf. If they want to use that (air-space) to attack Afghanistan, then it is their choice,” the Army Chief said.

Parliamentarian Mohsin Javed Dawar apparently stated that because of its policies, Pakistan had not made any friends in the region except the Taliban. “That is why we have no friends in Afghanistan today. Everyone dislikes us as we support the Taliban which kills and sheds innocent blood,” he said.

Dawar is reported to have further stated that the Pakistan army should expel the Taliban and let them go back to Afghanistan, rather than accusing the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement of harbouring them. General Qamar Javed Bajwa, while responding to Dawar, accepted that the Taliban were operating in the border areas of Pakistan.