US desperation for military bases: Pakistan’s opportunity?

Imran Khan recently refused to give military bases to the US, and while this may be a great public victory for Khan, that is sure to boost his popularity ratings, one must beg the question, is it the only way to go?

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|Naureen Salim 

American superpower’s 20-year war is finally coming to an end as it prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan completely. With the excuse of dealing with “other bigger problems,” the US refuses to admit defeat and acknowledge the fact that its two-decade-long haul in Afghanistan led to nothing except devastation.

That being said, it’s remarkable how the US is still unwilling to let go of Afghanistan. Despite its withdrawal, it is determined to have some form of a hold on the war-torn country, and because of this fact, it is now on the look-out for military bases.

Due to its border with Afghanistan, and important role in the war on terror, Pakistan was of course the first choice for the US. Even if the US uses its bases in the Middle East, it still needs Pakistani air space to reach skies over Afghanistan.

Read more: How Pakistan is still part of America’s war on terror

Thinking that Pakistan will once again bow down to its every whim, the US sent CIA director William Burns to negotiate on a drone base for the US.

This did not go as planned because PM Khan refused to meet him, and once again, on Sunday, in an interview with HBO, stated that Pakistan will not allow US any military base.

Imran Khan’s recent assertions of not hosting the US militarily have boosted the national morale! Never before, in the history of Pakistan, a PM has taken such a strong stand against the West. Normally, appeasement and giving the US what it wants has been the main strategy, however, it seems as if Pakistan is finding its own identity in the international arena and is finally putting its foot down.

While this may be a great public victory for Khan, that is sure to boost his popularity ratings, one must beg the question, is it the only way to go?

Financial Aid in exchange for military bases?

The US asking for military bases is not something new, as in previous years Pakistan has amply accommodated the US, that too covertly. In the 1960s, Pakistan denied giving the Peshawar Badaber air base to the US until Russia shot down a surveillance plane that took off from it.

Pakistan also denied giving the US Shamsi airbase until, in 2011, the NATO attack in a US-led clash killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and Pakistan, in what was called “reset” decided to expel US personnel from Shamsi.

PAF Base Nur Khan, PAF Base Shahbaz, even commercial airports like Pasni Airport, were all given to the US to use for their operations.

Read more: Pakistan to provide military support to US as Mooed Yusuf meets counterpart

And in return, Pakistan got sizeable financial aid from the US. Since 2001, or even better, post 9/11, Pakistan received a total of $25.91 billion from the United States in financial aid.

The US Foreign Assistance to Pakistan in 2013, was $ 653 million, $ 630 million in 2014, $ 691 million in 2015, $ 687 million in 2016, $ 392 million in 2017, and $ 345 million in 2018.

Even though the amount fluctuated, it cannot be denied that Pakistan has received substantial foreign aid from the US, and strictly speaking from an economic point of view, looking at the figures, Pakistan can definitely use the money again.

Read more: Cutting Financial Aid To Pakistan May Not Bring Peace To Afghanistan

Military Bases for the US: Economic benefits?

The country has been unfortunate enough to be a victim of past government corruption who, instead of putting the money to good use, blew it up in smoke.

However, this time around, with Imran Khan and his PTI government leading the reins, one can hope that the incumbent government will not repeat its predecessors’ mistakes. Hence, Pakistan should give military bases to Pakistan.

Currently, Pakistan needs financial independence, and not in the form of loans. The country needs extra income. With financial compensation from the US for military bases, Pakistan can use the money and put it into the country’s development or return the loans it owes to IMF.

Read more: No Free Lunch: Pakistan’s rocky relation with IMF

Figures show that the economy is doing well; however, the common man is still bearing the brunt of inflation within Pakistan. Instead of taxing the people, Pakistan can use the income generated in exchange for military bases and sustain the economy.

Furthermore, one of the greatest challenges facing Pakistan is FATF. Pakistan needs to be removed from FATF’s gray list. By allowing the US bases, Pakistan can show that it is committed to fighting against terrorism at all costs and can get US’ approval.

Read more: Countering FATF Prejudice against Pakistan: The Acrimonious Fact

Setting strong terms for US bases

If Pakistan decides to give the US military bases, then it should make sure to set strong terms that do not compromise its national security. The US is notorious for taking more than it’s given. There is no doubt that once Pakistan allows US military bases, it will open a spying channel within the country.

To prevent this from happening, Pakistan should set terms that would limit US personnel’s inter-city movement. For example, if a base is given, then the US military should remain within the territorial confines of said base. Any violation should result in immediate expulsion.

Read more: Raymond Davis’s book ”The Contractor”: What’s behind the scenes?

In addition, Pakistan is emerging as a strong contender in the global arena, and it can even use the US desperation for military bases to negotiate on the Kashmir issue. With the US Freedom of Navigation debacle earlier this year, it can be said that Uncle Sam isn’t too chummy with India either. Hence, Pakistan should take a shot at negotiating for Kashmir once again.

US bases: Taliban dilemma?

Fears loom that once Pakistan sides with the US, the Taliban will take up arms again and a civil war will ensue in Afghanistan, but then again, did the Taliban ever stop waging attacks?

Even during the peace process, the Taliban continued with their attacks. According to a NATO report, Afghanistan witnessed a 37% increase in Taliban attacks over the last year. The Taliban even refused to attend a peace conference in Istanbul, Turkey, leading to the conference’s postponement because what’s the point of peace talks when the main instigators are absent?

Read more: Afghan Taliban attacks intensify as US peace envoy returns

The damage done in Afghanistan is so deep that now the country cannot be just left at the mercy of the Taliban. The Afghan government is weak and cannot fend off the terrorists alone, it needs US assistance.

And to assist the Afghan government, and maintain its relevance in the region, the US needs Pakistan, hence a great opportunity for us.

As for China, and its strained ties with the US, one must learn that Pakistan cannot make everyone happy. Pakistan needs to do what is economically best for it. China is already supporting it through CPEC, and it is doubtful that China would care much if Pakistan is providing military bases to the US as long as its own economic ventures in Pakistan are not harmed.

The US itself does not want any conflict with China.

Read more: Biden wants no conflict with China and Russia, seeks diplomacy instead

And if people do question Pakistan’s loyalty to China, then it must be understood that loyalty is a two-way street; China is Israel’s third-largest trading partner and largest trading partner in East Asia.

Naureen Salim is a Research Associate and Sub-Editor at GVS. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.