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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Escaping the graveyard of nations: Expert Opinions

It is looking likely that after the USA leaves, a good deal of political uncertainty is about to hit Afghanistan - what should Pakistan be doing under this scenario? PM Imran Khan has flatly refused to allow the US base in Pakistan but should he have been more flexible as Pakistan requires US support to get off from the FATF grey list and is also seeking relaxation under the present IMF program? Our experts looked at the Implications of US bases in Pakistan, potential benefits to the country, and ramifications of political uncertainty in Afghanistan.

Escaping the graveyard of nations

Imtiaz Gul

Executive Director of the Center for Research and
Security Studies, Islamabad

Nearly two decades into the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Afghanistan remains as embattled as it was when the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Its future also seems today as uncertain as it was then.

Regardless how the stalemated Intra-Afghan dialogue pans out, another issue that stands out as a bitter reminder of how big powers pursue and preserve their interests the way they perceive it.

The issue in point is the planned evacuation and relocation of thousands of Afghan interpreters while their applications for entry into the US are being processed. The evacuation of the” at-risk Afghans” involves as many as 50,000 Afghan professionals and their family members.

Those who helped us are not going to be left behind … They’re welcome here just like anyone else who risked their lives to help us,” Biden said in a recent exchange with reporters at Washington.

“We’ve already begun the process, he said. Doesn’t it remind you of Shakeel Afridi, asked a former police official in Peshawar. Afridi was considered instrumental in helping US CIA locate Osama bin Laden’s last above in Abbottabad and is presently serving a 23-year prison term in solitary confinement at Sahiwal Central Prison in Punjab.

The police official, who had been part of the team dealing with the Afridi case, said the US accords high importance to all those who help it in its overseas military and intelligence missions.

But what about the nearly almost 30 million Afghans, who have been suffering the brunt of the US war on terror all these decades? Who will take care of them, asked the official. This indeed is the saddest aspect of the entire story; a chest-thumping march into Kabul in the name of OEF and a “nation building” project that is now drawing to a close without any marked change as far as Afghanistan’s power dynamics is concerned.

The almost thirty million Afghans being abandoned at the mercy of cold power politics, while only a few thousand being considered for safe havens in the United States after sacrificing 2,500 soldiers and spending some $ 2.5 trillion! Sad indeed.

Read More: Afghanistan: Important Questions for the Future

Escaping the graveyard of nations

Rahimullah Yusufzai

Senior journalist and Security Analyst

Already the situation in Afghanistan is politically uncertain and is becoming grave. In less than two months the ground realities on the battlefield have changed with the Taliban seizing scores of districts in northern provinces and then extending the offensive to almost all parts of the country.

The Taliban have gained a decisive edge and the Afghan government is struggling to cope with the situation. The peace talks have stopped and even if resumed the Taliban will now dictate terms.

Pakistan has to stay focused on seeking a political solution and reconciliation as it will be blamed the most if the Taliban capture power by force and again install the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which Islamabad has publicly opposed.

A desperate Afghan government as usual has been blaming Pakistan for supporting the Taliban and not doing enough for the peace process. The US has washed its hands of Afghanistan but it too will remain critical of Pakistan for its retreat after its longest war for 20 years.

Pakistan should apply gentle pressure on the Taliban to make an inclusive government as their rivals are already being armed to form militias and will get support from some countries. In fact, the civil war has already started.

Islamabad should refrain from any aggressive action against the Taliban as it will be losing a long-time friend and causing us security problems. The Taliban’s dependence on Pakistan has considerably reduced as they have established contacts and found partners internationally with even India making efforts to contact it.

Still, Pakistan’s security challenges could increase as the fighting drags on. Pakistan should not undertake any mediation effort alone as it has to be a shared responsibility to make Afghanistan peaceful and stable.

Having rightly refused use of airbases to the US, Pakistan should also seek review of the 2001 air and ground links of communication agreement as those were different times in wake of 9/11 attacks.

Read More: Afghanistan: Freedom on the horizon

Closing the border with Afghanistan as stated by Imran Khan may be meant to stop influx of Afghan refugees into Pakistan but it may not be possible to implement it fully once displaced Afghans knock at your border amid outcry by many countries and organizations.


Ambassador (Retd) Jalil Abbas Jilani

Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador
of Pakistan to the US

Pakistan has changed over the years. Issues pertaining to foreign and security policies are extensively debated by the parliament, media, civil society, and other stakeholders. A manifestation of this trend is the extensive debate carried out recently on Pakistan-India relations, trade with India, and allowing the US to establish bases in Pakistan to monitor the evolving situation in Afghanistan.

In the recent past, issues related to the Yemen war, Syrian conflict, and transit facilities to the US forces were discussed in the Parliament and the Respective Pakistani Governments made a decision keeping in view the public opinion and interests of Pakistan.

We need to keep in mind that the US and Pakistan don’t have convergence on several issues. However, retaining each other’s goodwill is important for the promotion and preservation of their respective interests.

Allowing bases to the US has implications: Firstly, it is extremely unpopular with the majority of the people besides the parliament; secondly, it will encourage various extremist organizations to step up terrorist attacks inside Pakistan; lastly, it will be misconstrued by the neighboring countries. It is not only Pakistan that has said no to the US bases, almost all neighbours of Afghanistan have done the same for identical reasons.

Read More: India evacuating RAW anti-Pak staff out of Afghanistan amid fears


Marvin Weinbaum

Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies,
Middle East Institute

Bound in by popular sentiment in Pakistan and his own political history, PM Imran Khan has had little choice but to unequivocally reject the Biden Administration’s appeal for military basing rights.

It is a separate issue whether some exercise of flexibility would in fact contribute very much to Pakistan’s efforts to be removed from the FATF grey list or to see the relaxation of the IMF’s stringent demands. In any case, for a country well accustomed to American demands, the basing issue represents a different order of pressure on Pakistan.

It reopens deep wounds in the long mercurial relationship with the U.S. For Pakistan’s political elites as well as the broad public, the U.S. military and intelligence operations evoke resentments that came to a head with events in 2011 but had already grown over the U.S. launching of drone attacks within Pakistan and the evidence of complicity by the country’s authorities.

At the same time, the argument that Pakistan had foolishly allowed itself to be sucked into an American war on terrorism in Afghanistan was being widely heard. No political figure in Pakistan was more vocal than the politically rising Imran Khan. For the PM to now show flexibility beyond perhaps offering the U.S. air corridors would amount to political suicide.


Michael Kugelman

Deputy Director of the Asia Program and Senior
Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center

Under certain conditions, a new basing agreement with the US may provide significant benefits for Pakistan. If Washington agreed to let Islamabad sign off on any operation (and its target) staged in Afghanistan from Pakistan; if Washington restored suspended security assistance and offered additional aid; if Washington promised to press FATF and the IMF to be more lenient on Pakistan; and if Washington agreed to pressure India to reduce its presence in Afghanistan—then a base accord may be acceptable.

Read More: Is China planning to enter Afghanistan to fill the vacuum left by U.S?

But let’s be clear: The US would be unwilling to accept many if not most of these conditions. And at the end of the day, the Pakistani government—led by one of the country’s most longstanding and sharpest critics of U.S. military actions—and the Pakistani armed forces would be taking enormous political risks by opting for a base accord.

If the agreement were ever made public, the political backlash would be immense. A more realistic option is a new intelligence-sharing agreement that would entail Islamabad helping provide information to Washington about the locations of transnational terror groups in Afghanistan, which would be used to help guide U.S. counterterrorism operations likely launched from existing American bases in the Middle East.