US demands vs Pakistan’s sovereign values
RECENTLY, the US Pentagon asked Pakistan to provide the military bases.
Although not falling prey to the US pressure, Islamabad’s reply is writ large—obviously, Pakistan cannot accept this illegitimate demand since it intrinsically violates our sovereign values/national interests.
This analysis argues that despite the existing gap between Washington’s illegitimate demands and Islamabad’s sovereign interests, the two sides—Pakistan and the United States, still have a viable scope for a new reset in their relations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan while giving an interview to the HBO’s Jonathan Swan on June 19 has upheld Pakistan’s sovereign stance that it will not give its bases to the US for operations in Afghanistan after the latter’s troops’ withdrawal.
“Will you allow the American government to have the CIA here in Pakistan to conduct cross border counter-terrorism missions against Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban?” Swan asked the Premier. “Absolutely not,” PM Imran Khan responded.
In this context, a few important geopolitical aspects as well as other important factors have to be taken into consideration while determining the motives of the American demand vis-a vis the merit of its rejection by the Pakistani government.
Needless to say, for the last 20 years, Afghanistan has remained the nucleus of US intervention in South Asia.
Needless to say, the US-waged war on terror in Afghanistan created a unique and trickery connection between the two extremes in world politics—North America and South Asia.
Since the 9/11 era, extrinsically, the US has remained as a foreign dominant factor or force in Afghanistan, but substantially, it has had no option other than to cope with an exit strategy from 01 May 2021. Equally, for both Washington and Islamabad, the post-withdrawal phase is challenging.
For Washington, withdrawal of its interests from Afghanistan seems irksome; whereas for Pakistan, the security of its western border has become the most important concern.
From the American perspective, some geopolitical interests are most important: One, America does not want to make a genuine exit from this region.
Two, it wants to counter the growing Chinese and Russian interests/influence in this region.
Three, by coming too close to Afghanistan via Pakistan, the US wants to keep an eye on both Afghanistan and Iran.
Four, while keeping its strategic presence in the region, Washington wants to please India.
As China keeps an open eye on India, New Delhi wants that the US should keep Pakistan under its leverage.
Five, both the US and India are viewing CPEC as a stumbling block in the way of the Western interests in this region.
And yet, from the Pakistan perspective, there are some pivotal justifications for this refusal of the US demands.
First, Pakistan cannot compromise on its sovereign status Second, this kind of arrangement would disturb Pakistan’s close allies, China, Russia and Iran.
Third, a likely Taliban’s government in Kabul would take this kind of arrangement against the interests of Afghanistan.
Fourth, for the people of Kashmir as well as Pakistan, such a mechanism would never be acceptable since this will be tantamount to hibernating the epic Kashmiri struggle for independence. Fifth, an illegal legacy of drone attacks still haunts the Pakistanis’ memories.
And finally, such a decision will be a violation of Parliament’s unanimously adopted terms of engagement for American/foreign forces adopted on 12 April 2012, and would be contrary to the national security interests of Pakistan.
And yet arguably, without the UNSC’s approval, the use of military power to access another country’s soil is not permissible under international law.
Against this backdrop, Islamabad is absolutely justified in rejecting the US demands.
Pakistan FM Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while making a speech in Parliament last month said, “We will not allow boots on ground or military bases on our territory”. Today, Islamabad is seeking a paradigm shift in its ties with the US.
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Moeed Yusuf, has presented to his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, a blueprint to enhance bilateral relations not based on security and defence but focusing on economy and trade.
“[The] United States has assured us that Pakistan will not be made a scapegoat amidst the withdrawal [of US troops] from Afghanistan, but only time will tell whether [they stay true to their word] as history suggests otherwise,” Pakistan’s NSA remarked.
Meanwhile, the US has launched fear of the Taliban or the non-state actors regrouping in Afghanistan (after troops’ withdrawal).
This complex situation seems aggravated by the ongoing interplay of interests between the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul and the Afghan Taliban.
Some Afghans and other international observers have proposed the formation of an interim government, arguing that the Taliban’s continued refusal to recognize the Afghan government might make such a step necessary.
Doctrinally, the paradox to be faced by the Biden Administration is that it still pursues — a policy of full-spectrum dominance conceived by the Pentagon in the post/911 era — without realizing the fact that in the last decade, the strategic culture of this region has undergone dramatic change.
What Washington needs to realise the fact that after the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, Islamabad faces a strong security dilemma.
On the eve of 9/11, Islamabad had chosen to unconditionally side with the US, but such a situation is not prevalent right now.
Of course, an extraordinary situation demands a resourceful recalibration before making a strategic commitment. It is why Pakistan is poised to uphold a sovereign approach.
“Pakistan should have avoided repeating its costly mistake of providing airbases and ground routes for the US two decades ago,” Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan, told Arab News.
“It should neither provide its airbases nor allow the US to use its airspace and ground routes.
If we become a party with the US again, it will increase hostility against Pakistan in Afghanistan.
This will even affect our relations with some factions of the Taliban,” he added. —To be continued
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.