ISLAMABAD – Officials in Afghanistan said a plane carrying a high-profile Pakistan parliamentary delegation was turned back Thursday as it was about to land in Kabul after explosives were found at the airport.
The large Pakistani delegation was to stay in the Afghan capital for three days under the leadership of Asad Qaiser, speaker of the lower house of Parliament, or the National Assembly.
Qaisar and his delegation were invited by his Afghan counterpart, Mir Rahman Rahmani.
Abdul Qadir Zazai, a spokesperson for the Afghan Parliament, said that during construction work, a digging team found old “unexploded ordnance” in part of the airport. The discovery prompted the control tower to refuse landing permission to several planes, including the one carrying the Pakistani guests, he explained.
NATO helps with detonation
Zazai said NATO-led military personnel later helped the Afghan partners carry out a controlled detonation of the ordnance to defuse the threat. It was not immediately known who planted the explosives.
Both Rahmani and Qaiser agreed to reschedule the visit, Zazai said.
Pakistani special envoy to Afghanistan, Mohammed Sadiq, who was also part of the delegation, tweeted that a “security threat” prompted the postponement of their visit.
As the plane was about to descend, the control tower informed them that the airport had been closed. Sadiq wrote. “New dates for the visit will be decided after mutual consultations.”
Islamabad has lately stepped up its diplomatic outreach to improve traditionally strained relations with Kabul, which blames Pakistan for sheltering leaders of the Taliban who are waging a deadly insurgency to dislodge the Afghan government.
Pakistani officials reject the charges and in turn allege that fugitive anti-state militants have established sanctuaries in Afghan border areas where they plot attacks against Pakistan.
Drone strikes kill militants
U.S. drone strikes have in recent years killed important Pakistani militant commanders in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer border. The traditionally porous frontier has long encouraged militants to move in both directions and undertake subversive acts in both countries.
Islamabad has in the past few years unilaterally erected a robust fence along most of the Afghan border. Officials say the work on the remaining portion is expected to be completed later this year.
Pakistani military officials insist the fencing effort has significantly deterred all illegal crossings, leading to improved security in Pakistan.
Afghan students allowed to study in Pakistan
Islamabad also has relaxed visa restrictions for Afghans and recently increased the number of scholarships for Afghan students keen to study in Pakistani institutions.
Pakistan is also credited with arranging peace talks between Taliban leaders and the United States that led to the signing of a landmark agreement between the two adversaries in February 2020, setting the stage for U.S. troops to begin a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The U.S.-Taliban deal also encouraged the insurgents to open direct peace talks last September with representatives of the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent end to years of war. But the dialogue, being hosted by Qatar, has since stalled.
Source: Voice of America