Islamabad (Reuters) –Pakistan has protested to Afghanistan’s Taliban government over the killing of 23 soldiers in an attack on a military base, demanding action against the perpetrators, Islamabad said as it grapples with security challenges ahead of elections next year.
Tuesday’s gun and bomb attack claimed by an Islamist militant group comes amid concerns voiced by political analysts about general elections set for Feb. 8, amid a surge in such attacks in the mainly Muslim nation of 241 million.
Pakistan’s foreign office summoned Kabul’s envoy over the attack, it said in a statement on Tuesday, asking for the Taliban administration to “fully investigate and take stern action against the perpetrators of the recent attack”.
It also sought a public condemnation of the incident, which led to the heaviest death toll in a single attack in years.
The ministry did not say whether an Afghan national was involved in the base camp attack, nor provide details of why Islamabad wants Kabul to investigate the links to it.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top intelligence official in Islamabad told Reuters that Pakistan was investigating evidence that suggested an Afghan national had led the six-man suicide squad responsible for the attack.
The Pakistani military did not respond to a request for comment.
The Taliban diplomat in Islamabad, Sardar Ahmad Shakib, has conveyed Pakistan’s concerns to Kabul, he told Reuters in a WhatsApp message.
“If they ask for investigation, if they share the details with us, we will do the investigation,” the Taliban’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters in response to Pakistan’s demand, though he added that the incident had nothing to do with Afghanistan.
The United States condemned the attack.
“We stand with the people of Pakistan in ensuring the perpetrators are brought to justice,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a post on social media platform X that offered condolences to the bereaved.
Ties between Islamabad and Kabul have plunged in recent months to their lowest in years.
In October, Pakistan ordered the expulsion of all Afghan nationals staying in the country without legal documents, holding them responsible for 14 of this year’s 24 suicide bombings.
Pakistan says the Islamist militants use safe havens in Afghanistan to train for and carry out attacks such as the one this week, although Kabul denies the charge, saying that Pakistani security is a domestic issue.
A Pakistani Taliban group, the Tahreek-e-Jihad Pakistan (TJP), which has emerged recently to claim several big bombings, claimed the military base camp attack.
The foreign office said the group was affiliated with the Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which consists of Islamist and sectarian outfits that have waged a war against the state for years, but the TJP has not clarified the matter.
The militants have ramped up their attacks since they revoked a ceasefire with the government last year.