Controversy over US military bases in Pakistan | By Prof Dr Muhammad Khan

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Controversy over US military bases in Pakistan

THE Foreign Office of Pakistan has categorically denied any proposal of providing military bases to the United States, after pull-out of its forces from Afghanistan in September 2021.

The spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Office Mr Zahid Hafeez Chaudri said in a statement, “There is no US military or air base in Pakistan nor was any such proposal envisaged. Any speculation on this account is baseless and irresponsible and should be avoided.”

This clarification from FO is enough to believe that there is no such proposal with the Government of Pakistan and the Military Establishment.

Later on Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also clarified in a statement in the Senate that “reports regarding [US] bases are baseless.

Pakistan will neither allow any drone [strike] nor will an American base be established here.”

The question arises why such a controversy generated which caused alarm and confusion at national level in Pakistan.

The Dawn newspaper in its May 24, 2021 opinion article referred a conversation of Mr David F. Helvey, US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Affairs at United Sates Senate Armed Services Committee.

On the question of a Senator about outlining the support from Pakistan to the US, Mr Helvey said, “Pakistan has played an important role in Afghanistan. They supported the Afghan peace process.

Pakistan also has allowed us to have over flight and access to be able to support our military presence in Afghanistan.”

There is no doubt that Pakistan has supported the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2001 to-date. Rather Pakistan acted as the front line state against global war on terror.

It was indeed Pakistan which won this war, otherwise US and NATO had faced stiff resistance in Afghanistan and in a way badly failed to achieve their objectives, finally bowed to have an agreement with Taliban.

US Assistant Defence Secretary further informed the committee members that Pentagon will continue talking to Pakistan for the support and contribution for bringing peace to Afghanistan. Why should US needs Pakistani air space for its counter terrorism attacks in Afghanistan.

The logical question is, should the defeated US and NATO forces be allowed to undertake counter terrorism operation in Afghanistan, after their pull-out in September 2011. Such an act would aim to target Pakistan indeed.

There is no doubt the Pakistani effort enabled US to have an agreement with Taliban in February 2020 and the on-going US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan is a result of the same agreement, if materialized as per plan by September 2021.

Nowhere from the statements of US Assistant Secretary of Defence there is mentioned that Pakistan has provided military bases to US forces nor did there has been any request from White House or Pentagon for the provision military bases to US.

Indeed, Pakistan cannot afford to give its military bases to United States or any other country.

Providing military bases to any external power will be amounting to compromise on the national security of Pakistan.

Any such act will be against the national interests of Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistani military establishment and Government of Pakistan will never opt for such a dangerous option.

In its history, Pakistan has suffered repeatedly on account of its alliances with great powers. The cold war era alliance with US badly impaired Pakistani national interests.

While the leadership of that time continued protecting the US interests against the former Soviet Union, Pakistan lost both at internal and external fronts.

Despite being a close ally of Pakistan, United States did not protect or rescue Pakistan in its former eastern wing against Indian conspiracy and military aggression at those critical moments.

Such an alliance system and bad governance ultimately led towards disintegration of Pakistan in 1971 where US Administration was instrumental to all what happened against Pakistani interests.

Later in the decade of 1980s, Pakistani geopolitics was used to disintegrate former Soviet Union.

Whereas US got the status of sole superpower, Pakistan got all ills and evils as the aftermath of the Afghan war.

The weapon culture, the drug culture, ethnicity, factionalism and internal instability were some of outcomes of the 1980s; once Pakistan unequivocally supported Washington against Moscow.

Indeed, the dynamics of international power politics are different from what morality warrants.

There is no morality in international power politics; major powers use the smaller states for their own strategic interests and abandon them at will once no longer required.

After Salala Attack by the US military, killing 24 Pakistani Army soldiers on 26 November 2011, Pakistan blocked logistic support to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for seven months.

This attack was a clear violation of Pak-US partnership during global war on terror where Pakistan was acting as a “Major non-NATO ally”. Thereafter, Pakistani Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on April 12, 2012.

This resolution clearly defined terms of engagement with US or any foreign power on the issues of national security of Pakistan hence cannot be violated under any circumstances.

In the light of past lessons, Pakistan learnt from its international alliance system and global partnerships, it is essential that Pakistan must pursue an independent foreign policy.

The determinants and objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy must be based on its own national interests, rather those of great powers.

The nuclear Pakistan with a very professional military cannot afford presence of foreign military elements anywhere on its soil.

It is to be noted that nuclear assets of Pakistan and its highly professional defence forces have been the primary targets of international forces right from the beginning of 21st century.

— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.