On 1st of July, Military leadership of Pakistan briefed the parliamentarians on the current emerging landscape in the region, specifically the post withdrawal situation in Afghanistan. In that In-Camera session policy options for Pakistan were comprehensively discussed. This meeting is scheduled in the scenario when Pakistan is facing pressure from America to provide bases for keeping an eye on the region.
While analysing the situation it is clear that Pakistanis are not children of a lesser God nor our lives are free. America has always asked us to “Do More” but now it is time to say back “No More”. Not a single country of the world has given sacrifices for another country like Pakistan did for America. Instead of getting appreciation, we were criticized by them. Under the present civil-military leadership, it has been decided that Pakistan will never ever compromise on its sovereignty. As the U.S. forces are pulled out rapidly from Afghanistan, it has plunged further into anarchy. It was neither the war of Pakistan nor it was linked with us but it was our biggest mistake to become a US ally. The intensification of the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of foreign troops has prompted the Taliban in Afghanistan to accelerate their military offense. For the last couple of months there were massive rumors that America has demanded from Pakistan to hand over its bases nearby Afghanistan to have control on the region after its withdrawal. Anti-Pakistan lobbies had given hype to the concept and tried to create a rift between Pakistani nation and its leadership on the issue. For that matter, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood ruled out the possibility of providing military bases to the United States for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.
The only way to give a clear and final call to the US was through direct statements from the Prime Minister at public level. So, an interview of PM Imran Khan was arranged with Jonathan Swan affiliated with “Axios on HBO”, during which while responding to a question “Would you allow the American government to have the CIA here in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counterterrorism missions against Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban? Prime Minister Pakistan Imran khan categorically said that Pakistan would “Absolutely Not” allow any base and use of its territory to the US for any sort of action inside Afghanistan. The message by the PM was loud and clear and was heard across the globe.
It is a fact that the increasing violence and limited ceasefire may lead to a new civil war in Afghanistan, with serious consequences for the region. Pakistan will get directly affected by this crisis as it is located at the center of a geopolitical crisis.
The Taliban’s assurance that Afghan soil would not be used against any other country became the key point of the Peace deal that paved the way for withdrawal of foreign forces. In past, for a long time, Pakistan was wrongly claimed as a safe haven for Afghan Taliban fighters, fighting against the foreign forces but as a matter of fact Armed Forces of Pakistan ended the menace of terrorism from its territory after giving massive sacrifices. In the present scenario, just because of the families of Taliban living here in Pakistan, Islamabad got some bargaining chips to bring them to the negotiation table with US officials, but this influence seems to be affected by the withdrawal of US troops. We cannot force the Taliban; we can only ask them to solve the issue.
Pakistan is very clear in its stance that; it is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States in a post withdrawal situation but at the same time it will avoid risking getting indulged in further conflict. It must be understood that there is no military solution to the Afghanistan issue and using force can complicate things further. Both Taliban and Afghan government have to sit together and find a peaceful solution for solving issues of Afghanistan. Pakistan has learnt a lesson from the past and it will not side with any particular group. Pakistan will continue supporting the group which enjoys the trust and confidence of the Afghan people. It has been proven after studying that no outsider can conquer Afghan soil.
It is a renowned fact that Pakistan hosts above 3 million Afghan refugees. If the situation further deteriorates, this figure will increase massively and Pakistan is not having more capacity to absorb the increasing refugees. Pakistan has also taken a big step by fencing the border completely in order to avoid any illegal cross border movement. Pakistan has given sacrifices of more than 70,000 lives in WoT. The aid given to Pakistan by the US was just like peanuts but our economy suffered losses of above $150 billion. The collateral damage in war against terrorism led to suicide attacks on Pakistani Army, which martyred more soldiers and officers than US lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan which was known for its beauty remained unable to use its tourism sector. Foreign investors remained reluctant to invest here, just due to becoming an ally of the US in its Afghan war. Our tribal belt has still not recovered from that black hour of our history.
PM Imran khan categorically said in his opinion article published a few days ago in “The Washington Post” that “The interests of Pakistan and the United States in Afghanistan are the same. We want a negotiated peace, not civil war. We need stability and an end to terrorism aimed at both our countries”.
Allowing US Drone attacks was the worst idea to get implemented inside Pakistan, those attacks created extreme hatred within Pakistani and Afghani public for the US. Pakistani governments remained hiding the fact that they allowed drone attacks and kept on doing fake condemnations. At the same time, terrorist groups including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan started their operations and tried to destabilize Pakistan.
In the present scenario, Pakistan can’t afford to host US bases. Pakistan understands the fact that if the United States with the help of NATO forces having modern weaponry remained unsuccessful to win in Afghanistan even after 20 years then it is unrealistic to achieve these objectives through a couple of bases in Pakistan. Pakistan wants economic development, peace, stability, trade growth in Afghanistan and will be ready to help Afghan government by all means. Pakistan will always play its part to make Afghanistan a peaceful and prosperous state because Islamabad knows that we can change friends but can’t change neighbours.
(Writer is Islamabad based veteran Journalist & PHD Media Studies fellow, an Academic Researcher & Media Analyst, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)