Will or will not Pakistan give a military base to US?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 03:50 PM, 9 Jun, 2021
Will or will not Pakistan give a military base to US?
Representative image.

Is Pakistan going to give the US its base for use at a time the superpower will quit neighbouring Afghanistan during the next few months after being defeated by the pauperized state in a two-decade war? 

Why is the situation not getting clear despite repeated claims by the government that during Imran Khan’s incumbency such a possibility is out of question? 

If there is no plan for the Pakistan government to give a base what are the talks between the two countries aimed at? 

Who is competent to take a decision on this sensitive matter and how? 

These are the questions needing immediate answers for public awareness. 

An American newspaper reported a few days ago that the US continues to focus on Pakistan for a military base in the region, although some American officials believe the negotiations have reached an impasse for now. 

“Some American officials told the NYT that negotiations with Pakistan had reached an impasse for now. Others have said the option remains on the table and a deal is possible.”  

William J. Burns, the CIA director, recently made an unannounced visit to Islamabad to meet the chief of the Pakistani military and the head of the directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence. US Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin also has had frequent calls with the Pakistani military chief about getting the country’s help for future US operations in Afghanistan. 

While Mr Burns did not bring up the base issue during his trip to Pakistan as the visit focused on broader counterterrorism cooperation, “some of Mr Austin’s discussions have been more direct,” the report adds.

On Pakistan’s reluctance in offering a base to the US, the report notes that “the government in Islamabad is unlikely to sign off on any US strikes against the Taliban that are launched from a base in Pakistan.” 

Yet, “some American officials believe Pakistan wants to allow US access to a base if it can control how it is used,” the report adds.  

However, according to the report “public opinion in the country has been strongly against any renewed presence by the United States.” 

The report claims that in discussions with American officials, “the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the CIA or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan.” 

While the controversy goes on, on Wednesday, an English language newspaper published from Islamabad and many other stations said in a report quoting a key defence source: “Airbases are an absolute no-go.”  

“There is no such thing,” claimed the source, privy to what has been discussed between the US and Pakistan’s defence and security officials in recent weeks and months. 

The paper quoted the source as saying that reports of even the consideration of Pakistani airbases being permitted to the US are “absolutely wrong”.  

“The CIA never even came up with this suggestion,” the source insisted, adding that the Americans knew what our answer would be. 

The source explained that the US has two main concerns for which Washington needs Pakistan’s help. First, ensuring the safe withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Second, helping stakeholders in Afghanistan sign some sort of agreement so that Washington could tell the world that it is leaving Kabul as a winner. The US is more concerned about its reputation than anything else. 

Analysts say that in the prevailing situation former Senate chairman Senator Mian Raza Rabbani’s demand for a discussion on the subject in a joint session of parliament is very reasonable.  

Parliament must discuss this subject at length and let everyone know why it is not in Pakistan’s interest to give a base to the US. Officials of the defence ministry should brief the elected representatives on all aspects of the matter and the latter should have a final word.  

Raza Rabbani has rightly pointed out that while the Foreign Office continues to deny that negotiations are afoot for providing a base to the US in Pakistan after or during withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, international media is ablaze with news of negotiation being held between Pakistan and US

“Such negotiations, if being carried on, are in violation of the Terms of Engagement, passed by a Joint Sitting of Parliament on 12th of April, 2012,” said the former Senate chairman.