ISLAMABAD: The United States has “at no stage or at any level even asked” Pakistan for military bases in the wake of withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan, a senior Western diplomat has said.
“Nobody in the entire US administration asked for bases, and yet there is so much focus on the issue in Pakistan,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly on the subject.
“The recurring debate and the hashtag ‘Absolutely Not’ campaign in Pakistan has left everyone scratching their heads in Washington,” he said.
According to informed sources, the United States has also formally conveyed its reservations to Islamabad over the “self-sponsored” campaign about demanding military bases.
Over the last few months, as the date for US withdrawal from Afghanistan draws near, a debate has been raging in policy circles in Pakistan regarding an alleged US request for military bases in Pakistan.
According to a recent report in The New York Times, CIA Director William J Burns had some “direct conversations” with the chief of the Pakistani military and the head of the directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence on the topic. However, the talks stalled when the Americans sensed a reluctance among their Pakistani counterparts. In May, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi took to the floor or Parliament and declared “no US base will be allowed by Prime Minister Imran Khan so long he is in power.”
However, talking to media, another senior Western diplomat said, “this is akin to creating an issue that doesn’t even exist.”
Regarding the perception in Pakistan that the US is pulling out of Afghanistan in a hasty and chaotic manner, the Western diplomats have suggested it is “preemptive move to blame others” for the ominously deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan.
“The debate should focus on why the Taliban failed to start negotiations in time to allow for a political settlement with the current regime in Kabul,” another senior Western diplomat said.
Under the Doha agreement signed by the Taliban and the US in Feb 2020, a full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces would occur within 14 months if the Taliban fulfilled certain conditions, which included cutting ties with al-Qaeda and denying space in Afghanistan to the Islamic State militant group.
However, the intra-Afghan dialogue, which was also part of the Doha peace talks, stalled and there has been no noticeable progress in this regard since nearly a year.
Top Pakistani military and civilian officials have repeatedly pointed out in recent days they wanted the US to exit responsibly. A hasty withdrawal, these officials say, would leave power vacuum which could plunge Afghanistan into another civil war.