Absolutely not | By Faheem Gulistan Malik

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Absolutely not


ABSOLUTELY not is a phrase that has been echoing around for the past few days.

This is the yielding and inflexible response to end the speculations of giving military bases to the US Prime Minister Imran Khan has always stressed not allowing the US military to use Pakistan’s territory against Afghanistan.

The Pakistani nation has gone jubilant over this forthright response by their Prime Minister, and social media has become a panegyric for Imran Khan.

Khan has not only fulfilled his promise of not granting basing rights to the US but has rightfully handled the current situation.

Imran Khan had always vociferously opposed previous governments’ dealings with the white house, leaving almost no room for his government to acquiesce to the US requests.

Khan was a stout critic of US drone strikes in Pakistan. The use of airspace in the shape of granting Shamsi Base and Shahbaz base in previous regimes created unrest in the general public and damaged the image and relations of Pakistan with neighbours.

He had always raked the successive governments over the coals for what he considered selfish, interest-based machination with Washington.

As a result, in his speeches before gaining office, Khan promised to combat the war on terror without being seen as a United States tool.

Even after gaining the premiership, Khan has repeatedly emphasized the importance of maintaining a balanced and mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.

Khan has also stated that Pakistan will only become a peace partner with the United States in the future.

With Khan’s approach toward Washington being maximalist, his government’s decision to grant the U.S. basing rights, which might open the path for violent action from and on Pakistani soil, will be politically disastrous for him.

Another reason would be keeping good relations with the Taliban, the most dominant players in Afghanistan.

Pakistan cannot afford to weaken its ties with the Taliban, as it is becoming evident that they are the most potent player in Afghanistan’s political landscape.

The Taliban are well-positioned to emerge as the ruling power in Kabul after capturing district after district after the announcement of U.S. troop withdrawal.

The Taliban would not welcome Pakistan taking such a move after warning Afghanistan’s neighbours against committing the historic mistake of allowing the US to maintain military bases. They might accuse Pakistan of collapsing under American pressure.

Apart from the Taliban, China and Iran are adversaries of the United States, and Pakistan allowing the US to use military bases is likely to cause concerns for these two neighbours.

The United States looks at China as the biggest threat to its national security. And Iran would never want the U.S. presence anywhere around its borders.

As a result, allowing the U.S. to utilize Pakistan’s bases will add to the country’s growing list of external security worries and internal political squabbles.

This is precisely what Pakistan cannot afford when it is eager to join the geo-economic bandwagon.

Another side of this debate that should not be overlooked that the United States is Pakistan’s largest export destination country, while China is Pakistan’s largest source of imports.

The United States has been one of the top investors in Pakistan over the last two decades, with significant U.S. investments concentrated in consumer goods, chemicals, energy, agriculture, business process outsourcing, transportation and communications and not to obviate America’s influence over IMF. These all impediments would be hobbling the Pakistan government in the coming days.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Saudi Arabia.

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