In an interview with Afghani publication TOLO news General John W. Nicholson, the top United States commander in Afghanistan, claimed on Saturday that the US was aware of Afghan Taliban leadership’s presence in Peshawar and Quetta, adding that the military would continue to put pressure on Taliban sanctuaries inside and outside Afghanistan.

This statement comes after – and despite of – Pakistan’s strong pushback against US comments on militant sanctuaries in Pakistan. In the battle of press releases and official statements that have followed the US announcement both sides have stuck to their stances, as was expected of them, but this is an explicit accusation that goes further than the things said before - an accusation that the government has to answer.

The US administration is not mentioning unnamed “sanctuaries” but cities that have been consistently linked with the Afghan Taliban presence, even by commentators at home. Although General Nicolson admitted that the matter was being addressed “in private” by the governments of US and Pakistan, this aggressive posturing does not help Pakistan’s case. It also does not fit in with the policy of an eventual political solution with the Taliban either. Pakistan has utilised it’s limited leeway with the Afghan Taliban to try to broker a peace deal between the militants and the Afghan government in the past, and it seems its role as an interlocutor is coming back to haunt it in the present. Despite suffering losses at the hands of the Afghan Taliban it tried to corral towards a peace deal, Pakistan is being accused of harbouring them. The accusation is very specific and very embarrassing.

The government must answer Gen Nicolson’s statements. It must either show that there is no Taliban presence in Peshawar or Quetta and explain its own contradictory stances.