Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has ruled out hosting US bases in Pakistan for military action inside war-torn Afghanistan, fearing it could cause his country to be “targeted in retaliatory attacks” by terrorists.
In an opinion piece in The Washington Post ahead of US President Joe Biden’s meeting with top Afghan leaders at the White House later this week, Mr Khan also questioned the effectiveness of such US bases in Pakistan.
“We can’t afford it. We have already paid a very heavy price,” Mr Khan said, amid reports that the US is focusing on Pakistan for a military base in the region.
Explaining the reasons for not allowing the US to set up bases in Pakistan, which were earlier granted permission to coordinate operations in Afghanistan after 9/11, the Pakistan Prime Minister said, “If Pakistan is not allowed US bases agrees to host, from which bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war began, Pakistan would again be targeted by terrorists for revenge.”
According to media reports, the US had used Shamsi airport in Balochistan to carry out hundreds of drone strikes since 2008. The drone strikes focused mainly on suspected operatives of Al Qaeda in mountainous tribal areas, but crossed the border into Afghanistan.
“If the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan 20 years later, how would America do it from a base in our country?” Mr Khan asked.
Mr Khan, however, underlined that Pakistan and the US share common interests in Afghanistan: a political settlement, stability, economic development and a denial of any safe havens for terrorists. “We want a negotiated peace, not a civil war,” he wrote.
The prime minister said Pakistan was ready to partner with the US for peace in Afghanistan, but “we will avoid risking further conflict” following the withdrawal of US troops.
With the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the US is exploring options to keep a close watch on the region and is talking to other countries about it. However, Pakistan has told the US that it will not give up its whereabouts and reiterated Islamabad’s commitment to peace in Afghanistan.
Mr Biden’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghanistan’s National Reconciliation Council President Abdullah Abdullah on Friday will discuss the withdrawal of US forces amid escalating fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country.
Mr Khan said that in the past Pakistan had made a mistake by choosing between warring Afghan parties, but it learned from that experience.
“We have no favorites and we will work with any government that has the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from outside,” he said.
Mr Khan said that Pakistan has suffered a lot from the wars in Afghanistan. “More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the United States provided USD 20 billion in aid, the damage to the Pakistani economy has exceeded USD 150 billion.”
He said tourism and investment have dried up and after the US joined the effort, “Pakistan was targeted as an ally, leading to terrorism against our country from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups.”
He also questioned the use of US drone strikes, which “I warned, did not win the war, but they instilled hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both of our countries”.
Mr Khan said there are more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their numbers could rise in the event of further civil war in Afghanistan.
He said that most of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group and more than half the Pashtuns live on the border with Pakistan.
“That’s why we’ve had very real diplomatic heavy lifting, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government, to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
“We know that if the Taliban tries to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed. We hope that the Afghan government will also show greater flexibility in negotiations, and stop blaming Pakistan, because we are all that. We are doing something that we lack in the army. Action,” he said.
Mr Khan said promoting economic connectivity and regional trade is the key to lasting peace and security in Afghanistan.
“Further military action is futile. If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, which was once synonymous with the ‘Great Game’ and regional rivalry, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation,” he said. They said.