May 11, 2021
ISLAMABAD – Pakistan ruled out Tuesday the possibility of again providing its military bases to the United States for future counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan after U.S. troops leave the conflict-torn neighbor by September 11.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the remarks to reporters in Islamabad, explaining that his government has adopted a policy that allows it to become “only partners in peace” and not join any future U.S. war.
“No sir, we do not intend to allow boots on the ground and no [U.S.] bases are being transferred to Pakistan,” Qureshi said when asked whether his government is under pressure to give military bases to the U.S.
President Joe Biden’s administration has acknowledged it is in talks with several Central Asian neighbors of Afghanistan to examine where it can reposition troops to prevent the landlocked country from once again becoming a terrorist base for groups like al-Qaida.
But U.S. officials have not named Pakistan, which shares a nearly 2,600-kilometers border with Afghanistan, nor have they commented on media speculation that the subject of bases might be under bilateral discussions.
Qureshi noted that Pakistan has also been consistently using its leverage over the Taliban, who have been waging a deadly insurgency against the U.S.-backed Afghan government, to encourage them to stop their violent campaign and negotiate a political settlement with Afghan rivals.
The foreign minister said “we feel” the Taliban’s engagement in the Afghan peace process would bring and enhance the “international respectability and recognition” that the group required.
“If they want to be acceptable, if they want delisting to take place, if they want recognition then engagement, giving up violence and looking for a political solution is in their political interest,” he said.
Qureshi referred to the Taliban’s demand for the United Nations and the U.S. to delist top insurgent leaders from their sanctions lists.
The chief Pakistani diplomat hailed as a positive development the Taliban’s declaration of a three-day cease-fire during this week’s Eid festival in Afghanistan. The Kabul government has responded by ordering Afghan forces to halt all offensive operations against the insurgents during the three-day festivities beginning Thursday.
Pakistan has long been accused of harboring Taliban leaders, but in recent years, Washington and other Western powers have hailed Islamabad’s efforts in bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table with U.S. interlocutors and subsequently with rival Afghan groups.
The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and parts of South Asia warned during recent congressional testimony that Washington would face substantial challenges to track new or growing terrorist threats once the military completes the planned Afghan withdrawal.
“We’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can,” said General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie. “It’s going to be extremely difficult.”
Pakistani military bases and ground and air lines of communication played a vital role in facilitating and sustaining the U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan 20 years ago.
The punitive military action was undertaken to oust the Islamist Taliban from power days after the September 11, 2001, strikes on the U.S. that were plotted by al-Qaida leaders from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan at the time.
Pakistan has long retaken control of its bases, though its airspace and land routes are still being used to ferry nonlethal military supplies for international forces across the Afghan border and facilitating the ongoing U.S. troop drawdown process.
The ongoing drawdown of the last remaining around 2,500. U.S. and roughly 7,000 NATO troops from Afghanistan is the outcome of Washington’s peace-building agreement it signed with the Taliban in February 2020 to close what has become America’s longest war.
The landmark deal encouraged the Taliban to open peace talks with Afghan government representatives in Qatar last September, but the dialogue has mostly been deadlocked, with both sides blaming each other for stalling the process.
Observers remain skeptical whether Pakistan or any other country that has ties with the Taliban could pressure them into jump-starting the stalled intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
“Well, the Taliban has indicated that [they are] not going to be interested in participating in any type of peace conference or any type of effort dedicated to the peace process so long as U.S. troops continue to be in the country,” Michael Kugelman, a U.S. expert on South Asian affairs, told VOA’s Afghan Service.
“So, I do think that in the few months that we have before U.S. troops have left, it’s going to be a real long shot to get the Taliban back into the peace process,” said Kugelman.
VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.