Afghan officials say leaders of the Taliban insurgency continue to operate out of hideouts and safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
They have questioned recent media reports citing Taliban officials who claim the Quetta Shura -- the Taliban leadership council named after the southwestern Pakistani city where it is believed to be based -- has now moved to Helmand. The southern province is Afghanistan’s largest and a global epicenter of opium production.
“Members of the Quetta Shura, as well as shadow governors and district governors and other military officials, often come from Quetta to Helmand and other provinces,” said provincial Governor Hayatullah Hayat. “But their council has not been transferred to our province.”
Hayat added that currently all high-ranking Taliban officials live in the Pakistanis cities of Quetta and Peshawar. Peshawar is the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, while Quetta serves as the provincial capital of southwestern Balochistan. Both share a long and porous border with Afghanistan.
On November 26, the Associated Press reported a possible relocation of the Taliban’s leadership council to Afghanistan. It quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid as saying their council was moved to Afghanistan “some months ago.”
The report also cited one Taliban official as saying the council was moved to southern Helmand Province.
“The Taliban were seeking to take control of Helmand and its capital Lashkar Gah to transfer the Quetta Shura here,” Hayat said. “But they faced a serious reaction by Afghan security forces and did not succeed in their plan.”
In Kabul, Afghan presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Meenapal said he agrees. He says while Taliban violence has escalated over the past two years, insurgent leaders remain in Pakistan.
“The Taliban have not transferred their council, and they have no permanent base in any corner of Afghanistan,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
He says Islamabad could be trying to deflect international pressure over the presence of Taliban sanctuaries on its soil. “Now the rumors are being circulated to show the international community that Pakistan has already done something,” Meenapal said.
Islamabad has mostly denied the presence of Taliban sanctuaries on its soil. But in an unusually candid admission in March, Pakistani prime minister’s adviser for foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said Islamabad has considerable influence over the Taliban because its leaders live in the country.
"We have some influence over them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here," he told a think-tank audience in Washington. "We can use those levers to pressurize them to say, 'Come to the table.' But we can't negotiate on behalf of the Afghan government because we cannot offer them what the Afghan government can offer."
In May, a U.S. drone strike killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur in a remote corner of Balochistan Province. Pakistan authorities said they recovered a Pakistani passport with the name Wali Muhammad, which they said Mansur used to travel to Iran and elsewhere.
Islamabad is still investigating the case.