Why the US should seek a military base from Pakistan ?
TO implement the US-Taliban peace deal signed by the Trump Administration in February 2020, the US President Joe Biden has recently declared, it was time “to end America’s longest war” as he announced that all the US/NATO troops would return home from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021.
Biden added, ”we went to Afghanistan for two reasons: get rid of bin Laden and to end the safe haven. I never thought we were there to somehow unify Afghanistan.
It’s never been done.” Biden also said, “While the US will continue to do the diplomatic and humanitarian work in Afghanistan, it was also now time for other countries to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, Pakistan in particular, but also Russia, India, China and Turkey.
Each of those countries has its own overlapping interest in the country, interests that don’t necessarily intersect with U.S. goals in Afghanistan. After Biden’s speech, all NATO members also announced to adhere to the Biden’s plan of withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Since signing of the US-Taliban deal in February 2020, while the Taliban has made positive efforts to have meaningful talks with the Ghani Government and a few rounds of talks were also held, the talks remained stalled due to Ghani government’s delaying tactics.
Even Bliken’s last minute effort of asking Ghani to start the talks by saying that the window of opportunity was limited, did not move the Ghani Administration.
After Biden’s withdrawal announcement, news emerged that the US has sought a military base from Pakistan.
Seeing such news, whereas the Afghan Taliban has warned the neighbouring countries for not allowing their military bases to the US, Pakistani Foreign Office has also denied news by stating that Pakistan will not provide military bases to the US.
Now the question arises, in view of the US’s above-mentioned position about Afghanistan, why should it seek a military base in Pakistan at this stage.
The signing of the peace agreement with the Taliban, makes it evident that the US has accepted the Afghan Taliban as the main stakeholder in the Afghan politics.
Likewise, in view of the danger of the Afghanistan based IS to the neighbouring countries, and having seen the Taliban’s success in eliminating the IS, except India, all other neighbours of Afghanistan, like, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, CARs, Russia and China, have also accepted the Taliban as the main stakeholder in Afghanistan.
This is also based on the declared policy of the Taliban that if they come to power in Afghanistan, they will not interfere in any other country’s internal matters.
Hence, after completing the withdrawal, the US/NATO members and all these countries, including Pakistan should prefer to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue to form an all inclusive interim government in Afghanistan, including the Taliban to amend the Afghan Constitution and hold the general election.
And if the Ghani Government, continues to resist/delay the talks, the US and the aforementioned countries should discourage such efforts.
In view of the above, if the US intends to pursue the above policy of working for sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it should suffice to use its diplomatic and economic support/pressure for sustaining the intra-Afghan dialogue, rather than conducting counterterrorism operations in support of the Ghani Government by using its existing bases located in some Gulf States or by seeking a military base from Pakistan.
Therefore, at this stage, if the US asks Pakistan for a military base, it would mean that it wants to sustain the Ghani Government and India’s presence in Afghanistan, by providing it the military support by using Pakistan’s soil.
Moreover, asking for the military base from Pakistan at this stage can be construed by some as an effort to fix Pakistan in the US’s Indo-Pacific policy, meant to contain China.
Hence, if the US seeks a military base from Pakistan at this stage, it should deny that to avoid following negative implications. Pakistan’s past gains will be lost, and India’s objectives in Afghanistan will be served.
Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban will be adversely impacted, Ghani government and India nexus will remain and Pakistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism, emanating from Afghanistan. The decision might also negatively impact Pakistan’s relations with China.
Moreover, ultimately, when the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan, then Pakistan may not have a friendly Afghanistan on its west.
In view of the above, at this stage Pakistan should not take any sides in the Afghanistan conflict and it should sincerely work for facilitating the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned dialogue between all the Afghan stakeholders, including the Ghani administration and the Taliban to succeed and form an all inclusive interim government.
This is very important to bring a long due and sustainable peace in Afghanistan, to facilitate the CPEC-based economic development of this region.
As far as Pakistan’s relations with the US are concerned, those would be strengthened if Pakistan facilitates the US’s future interests in Afghanistan by supporting and making the peace process a success.
Or, if due to the negative role of the Ghani Government, the Taliban succeed in gaining control of Afghanistan by using force and forming their government, then Pakistan should facilitate their relations with the US. Pakistan should also mediate to help improve China-US relations.
Pakistan will remain important for the US to keep peace in South Asia and the Middle East.
In the above context, President Biden’s mention in his speech that the US would look to reorganize its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan to help prevent the reemergence of threats to the homeland, the worries of the British Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, and the US Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, expressed in their recent statements indicate that the US might request, or Pakistan for a military base, and if Pakistan denies that, then it might seek an air corridor for the use by the US airborne forces operating from its aircraft carriers in the open sees or from its military bases in some Gulf countries.
—The writer, a retired Col, is an ex-research fellow of IPRI and senior research fellow of SVI, Islamabad.