Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has ruled out hosting American bases in Pakistan for military action inside war-torn Afghanistan, fearing it might lead to his country being “targeted in revenge 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 efficacy of such US bases in Pakistan.
“We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price,” Mr Khan said, amid reports that the US continues to focus on Pakistan for a military base in the region.
Elaborating the reasons for not giving nod the US to have bases in Pakistan, which were earlier allowed after 9/11 to coordinate operations in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Prime Minister said, “If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan, and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again.”
According to media reports, the US had used the Shamsi air base in Balochistan to carry out hundreds of drone strikes since 2008. The drone strikes focused primarily on suspected Al Qaeda operatives in mountainous tribal areas, but also 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 after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?” Mr Khan asked.
Mr Khan, however, underlined that Pakistan and the US have the same interests in Afghanistan: a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists. “We want a negotiated peace, not civil war,” he wrote.
The Prime Minister said Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the US but “we will avoid risking further conflict” after withdrawal of American troops.
Amid the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the US is looking for options to keep a close eye on the region and is talking to other countries about it. Pakistan, however, has told the US that it will not give its bases and reiterated Islamabad’s commitment to Afghan peace.
Mr Biden’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on Friday will discuss US troop withdrawal amid a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country.
Mr Khan said Pakistan in the past had made a mistake by choosing between warring Afghan parties, but it learned from that experience.
“We have no favourites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from outside,” he said.
Mr Khan said Pakistan suffered so much from the wars in Afghanistan. “More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the United States provided USD 20 billion in aid, losses to the Pakistani economy have exceeded USD 150 billion.”
He said tourism and investment dried up and after joining the US effort, “Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other groups”.
He also questioned the use of US drone attacks, which “I warned against, didn’t win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries”.
Mr Khan said there are more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and their number may increase in case of further civil war in Afghanistan.
He said most of the Taliban are from the Pashtun ethnic group and more than half the Pashtuns live on the Pakistan side of the border.
“This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government.
“We know that if the Taliban tries to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed. We hope the Afghan government will also show more flexibility in the talks, and stop blaming Pakistan, as we are doing everything we can short of military 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, once synonymous with the ‘Great Game” and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation,” he said.