ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday it will not provide air bases to the US after the troop withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, vowing to protect the nation’s interests and support the Afghan peace process.
“No. We don’t intend to allow boots on the ground here, and Pakistan isn’t transferring any base (to the US),” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in the capital Islamabad.
Last month, US President Joe Biden said that the remaining 2,500 foreign troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, more than four months after the initial deadline of May 1 set by the Taliban and Washington as part of a historic accord signed in Doha more than a year ago.
He warned the Taliban that the US could defend itself and its partners from attacks as it draws down its forces, and that Washington would “reorganize its counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region” to prevent the emergence of another terrorist threat.
The removal of the remaining US troops coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Qureshi said that his government had formulated an “explicit policy” regarding partnership with the US for peace in Afghanistan.
“We will be partners in peace, and this will be our role — the role of a facilitator,” he said.
In his congressional testimony last month, Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said that Washington is engaged in “a significant” diplomatic effort to determine where it will base a counterterrorism force in the region to deter terrorist groups after all American troops leave the country.”
He added: “No such understanding, however, currently exists with any of Afghanistan’s neighbors for housing the proposed anti-terrorism forces.”
Qureshi denied there had been pressure on Pakistan from the US to provide air bases, saying: “There is no pressure. Pakistan will protect its interests.”
He said that Islamabad hoped to see peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“It’s our need, and we want it to happen this way,” he said, vowing to continue support for the US-led Afghan peace process.
Afghans will have to take ownership of the peace process to make it a success, he said.
“The basic responsibility for peace lies with the Afghans, and we are praying for their success.”
Qureshi also welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day cease-fire during the Eid holidays in Afghanistan on Monday.
“This is a positive development. The reduction in violence will help provide a conducive environment for negotiations,” he said.
Pakistan’s military bases and land routes played a crucial role in facilitating and sustaining the US-led military invasion of landlocked Afghanistan.
Islamabad has long retaken control of its bases from the US forces, and defense analysts said it would not be in the country’s interest to hand these over to Washington once again.
“The US wants to maintain its surveillance of Afghanistan after the troops’ withdrawal, and that is why it is looking for options in the region to house aircraft, drones and maintenance systems,” Lt. Gen. (retd) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, told Arab News.
He added that Washington “may maintain its presence in India” with which it has already signed a logistics support agreement, but “even then they would need Pakistan’s permission to use the air corridor for any drone or jet flight to Afghanistan.”
“We have already suffered a lot due to America’s war in Afghanistan and cannot sustain it further by providing military bases,” he added.