Pakistan's military said it had granted asylum to at least 46 Afghan soldiers who crossed the Durand Line into northwestern Pakistan after their military posts in Afghanistan were overrun by Taliban insurgents.
At least 46 Afghan soldiers had sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions across the border following advances by Taliban insurgents have been returned to their homeland, Pakistan's military has said.
Dozens of Afghan forces, including five officers, had crossed the border late on Sunday near the Pakistani border town of Chitral in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a Pakistani army statement said.
The Afghan "soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms," the Pakistani army said, adding that it had informed Afghan authorities of the development.
ISPR@bbcpashto— Sumaira Khan (@sumrkhan1) July 26, 2021
video of 46 Afg soldiers including 5 officers who have been returned to Afghan govt authorities at Nawapass Bajaur today at 0035 PST
These Soldiers from the Afghan National Army and Border Police were given safe passage into Pakistan, on their own request, pic.twitter.com/jtVnLRfzLm
The Afghan government earlier denied its troops had crossed into Pakistan.
"This issue is not true. No Afghan military personnel have taken refuge in Pakistan, the sensitivity that all Afghans have against Pakistan and especially our military, is clear to all," said General Ajmal Omer Shinwari, spokesman for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Pakistan's military dismissed the Afghan denial, saying the border crossing by Afghanistan's military personnel is "confirmed."
A group of #Afghan army soldiers, who had sought refuge into #Pakistan after losing control of military post on the #Pak-Afghan border, have been returned to their country in a dignified manner, the #ISPR said in a statement. https://t.co/5PT04reSBz pic.twitter.com/lskQgnOjYy— Ghulam Abbas Shah (@ghulamabbasshah) July 26, 2021
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing at Arundu in Chitral, which borders Afghanistan's Kunar province, the Pakistan army said, adding the soldiers were given safe passage into Pakistan after clearance from Afghan authorities.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, similar to the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.
Hundreds of Afghan army soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
Rapid fall of districts to Taliban
The Taliban fighters have swiftly captured territory in recent weeks in Afghanistan, and seized strategic border crossings with several neighbouring countries.
They are also threatening a number of provincial capitals — advances that come as the last US and NATO soldiers complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The insurgents are said to now control about half of Afghanistan's 419 district centres.
The rapid fall of districts and the seemingly disheartened response by Afghan government forces have prompted US-allied warlords to resurrect militias with a violent history.
For many Afghans weary of more than four decades of wars and conflict, fears are rising of another brutal civil war as American and NATO troops leave the country.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan — long fraught with suspicion and deep mistrust — deteriorated further when the Taliban overran the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak earlier this month.
Kabul accused Islamabad of providing sanctuary to the Taliban as Afghan forces battle to retake Spin Boldak. Pakistan rejected those allegations. Instead, it said it had allowed wounded Afghans to enter Pakistan for treatment.
The US last week carried out air strikes in support of Afghan troops in the southern city of Kandahar, about 100 kilometres west of Spin Boldak.
Also this month, Kabul recalled its envoy and other diplomats from Islamabad after the 26-year-old daughter of Afghanistan's ambassador was allegedly assaulted in the Pakistani capital.
Islamabad said it was not a case of abduction, calling it an "international conspiracy" that it said was hatched by powerful Indian intelligence agency to embarrass Pakistan.
Kabul accused of sheltering anti-Pakistan militants
Pakistan says it still hosts about three million Afghans as refugees from decades of war in their homeland and that no country has tried harder to get Taliban insurgents on the dialogue table.
The Taliban's surge gained speed after President Joe Biden announced in mid-April that the last American and NATO troops would soon leave Afghanistan.
The 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and 7,000 NATO allies have mostly left the country at this point, with the few remaining soldiers to be gone by August 31.
Pakistan has dismissed allegations of aiding the Taliban, and points out that it succeeded in pressuring the insurgents into peace talks last year.
For its part, Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of harbouring the Pakistani Taliban, a terror group separate from the Afghan Taliban that has stepped up attacks on the Pakistani military and civilians.