By Tahir Khan
Taliban diplomats have started work in the Afghan embassy in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, and at Afghan consulates in other Pakistani cities, two Taliban officials and two Afghan diplomats told VOA Thursday. VOA has obtained copies of official Taliban notifications sent to the Afghan embassy in Islamabad.
Pakistani officials say they have allowed the deployments even though Pakistan has not yet recognized the Taliban government. Also, Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul, Mansoor Khan, confirmed the issuance of visas to the Taliban officials when queried by VOA via WhatsApp.
“These visas have been issued for facilitating consular work and visa facilities for Pakistanis visiting Afghanistan for humanitarian work and providing assistance to Afghan citizens in Pakistan,” Khan said. He added that issuance of the visas “does not mean recognition but facilitation.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been urging the international community to engage with the Taliban to avoid a humanitarian crisis and instability in Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul, in mid-August.
One Taliban official who talked to VOA on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to talk to media said that Sardar Muhammad Shokaib, also known as Mosa Farhad, has taken charge as first secretary in the Afghan embassy in Islamabad.
An Afghan diplomat who has been working in Islamabad since the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani said that Shokaib has taken over as the de facto “chargé d’affaires” because there is currently no ambassador in the Afghan embassy.
“He [Shokaib] is looking after all diplomatic affairs as the post of ambassador has been vacant since the withdrawal of ambassador by the former government in July,” he said.
An official in Pakistan’s foreign ministry told VOA, also on condition of anonymity, that he believes the Taliban appointments at the Afghan embassy “would be an administrative thing, to enable proper functioning of the mission.”
Afghanistan recalled its ambassador and senior diplomats from Islamabad in July to protest the alleged abduction and torture of the daughter of Afghan Ambassador Najibullah Alikhil. The daughter, Silsila Alikhil, who was visiting Islamabad, said she was kidnapped while she was shopping in Islamabad and beaten for hours by unknown men. Pakistan investigated the incident but denied that she was abducted.
The Taliban have also appointed diplomats at Afghan consulates in Pakistan’s three provincial capitals, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.
The official deployed in Peshawar, Hafiz Mohibullah, was formally introduced to the staff and assumed his duties Wednesday. A Taliban official said he would deal with consular affairs in lieu of the consul general.
VOA has seen the letter signed by Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi sent to the Afghan embassy approving his appointment to the Peshawar consulate.
Mullah Ghulam Rasool has been posted at Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, while another senior Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Abbas, has been assigned to the Karachi consulate.
Abbas, who has not yet assumed office, served as deputy health minister during the previous Taliban government. He also served as a messenger for the Taliban, bringing messages from the Taliban leadership to the Pakistan government and back, when the group’s leadership was in hiding during the years of insurgency.
A diplomat at the Afghan embassy confirmed to VOA that the embassy had received two letters from Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in late August about the appointments of the diplomats, even though they did not assume office until this week.
An Afghan embassy source said Pakistani visas have been issued to Taliban officials on diplomatic passports.
When asked for a comment, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid did not deny the appointments but said he is collecting information on the issue.
Pakistan recognized the Taliban government during its last tenure from 1996 to 2001 but withdrew recognition after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Mullah Zaeef, who served as the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan during Taliban rule, wrote in a book that he was handed over to U.S. forces in Peshawar in early 2002.
Who is Shokaib?
Taliban members who know Shokaib say he is an ethnic Pashtun from Zabul province and has served in the Information and Cultural Department in southern Kandahar and was associated with a Taliban magazine. He once worked as the Taliban spokesman under the name of Qari Yousaf Ahmadi and was arrested in Pakistan and later lived in Peshawar for several years.
Afghan diplomats at the embassy in Pakistan told VOA the mission had been facing a financial crisis since the Taliban takeover and that they have not paid the rent of the embassy building for three months.
“The staff has not received salaries over the past three months,” one diplomat said. He did not want to be identified by name because he is not authorized to speak to the media.