Imran swats down CIA plea to use Pak bases for Afghan strikes

CIA chief did not meet Prime Minister Imran Khan when he recently visited Pakistan

By: News Desk      Published: 09:20 AM, 19 Jun, 2021
Imran swats down CIA plea to use Pak bases for Afghan strikes
Imran Khan giving interview to Axios on HBO.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has shot down a request from premier American intelligence agency to use its military bases for carrying out operations inside Afghanistan after the US forces withdraw in September this year.

The Pentagon and US State Department have been pursuing former Soviet republics to Afghanistan’s north as places to continue operations after the September 2021 withdrawal, but have so far had little luck, given their proximity and ties to the Russian Federation.

In an interview with US Axios news website due to air on Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the CIA will “absolutely not” be allowed to operate from Pakistani soil after the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year.

The US’ loss is not for want of trying: CIA Director William Burns and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin have both visited Pakistan in recent months to discuss continued cooperation. However, the Pakistani government, long close to the Taliban, against whom the US would most likely be operating, has rebuffed all attempts as a compromise.

Despite an uneasy relationship with Pakistan, the US has conducted hundreds of drone strikes and cross-border counterterrorism operations from Pakistani soil.

But Imran Khan was unequivocal: Pakistan will not allow the CIA or US special forces to base themselves inside his country ever again, he told Axios.

Imran Khan has long opposed Pakistan cooperating with the US war on terror, but the reality is that he also has no choice but to say this publicly.

Close observers say it would be political suicide for Khan to embrace the presence of the CIA or special forces on Pakistani soil.

American officials privately are still hopeful they can come to a covert arrangement with Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence services.

CIA Director William Burns did not meet with Imran Khan when he made an unannounced trip to Islamabad recently to meet with the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, amid questions about how the CIA will adapt after two decades of intelligence and paramilitary operations in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US has had "constructive discussions" with Pakistan about ensuring Afghanistan will never again become a base from which terrorist groups can attack the US, but he declined to go into specifics.

Burns has warned of the "significant risk" of Al-Qaeda and ISIS regrouping in Afghanistan. "When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish," he testified in April. "That is simply a fact."

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress this week that it will take militant groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS possibly two years to develop the capability to strike the US homeland. 

That risk will only increase if the Afghan government collapses and the country falls into a civil war, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley testified.

Pakistan’s Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI) agency was Washington’s gateway to Afghanistan for decades before the US invasion in October 2001, providing an avenue by which the US could funnel financial and materiel support to Afghan tribesmen fighting the socialist Afghan government and its Soviet allies in the 1980s, including those that later became the Taliban, and then to groups resisting the Taliban government that came to power after the socialist government collapsed in 1996.

According to the New York Times, the US is once again searching for proxies in Afghanistan to support after the last US forces leave on September 11, apparently reflecting a belief that the Taliban, now out of power, won’t take peace talks seriously and that the US-backed Afghan government will quickly collapse in the face of a renewed Taliban offensive.

While the US and Taliban reached a peace deal in February 2020 for the US to end its 20-year occupation of the country and remove its remaining soldiers, a similar deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government has proven more elusive. 

However, while Islamabad won’t cooperate with the US any longer, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has signalled that his administration might seek out their help in achieving stability without the US.

“Peace will primarily be decided upon regionally, and I believe we are at a crucial moment of rethinking. It is first and foremost a matter of getting Pakistan on board,” Ghani told Der Spiegel last month. “The US now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands.”