ISLAMABAD: Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said the country will “absolutely not” allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counter-terrorism missions following the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.
“There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan,” Imran said in an interview to be aired by HBO on Sunday. “Pakistan will not allow the CIA or US special forces to base themselves inside this country ever again.”
Despite an uneasy relationship with Pakistan, the US had conducted hundreds of drone strikes and cross-border counter-terrorism operations from Pakistani soil since 2004. For nearly a decade, Pakistani authorities had denied allowing the CIA to use its bases. In 2013, however, ex-President Pervez Musharraf admitted giving permission to the CIA to launch drone attacks from bases in his country, breaking the official policy of blanket denial of involvement.
Despite rumours and claims by some opposition leaders that Pakistan’s military leadership has tacitly agreed to allow the CIA to base itself in the country again for counter-terrorism operations and intelligence gathering on Afghanistan, observers believe that it would be political suicide for Khan to embrace the presence of the CIA or special forces on his country’s soil.
CIA director William Burns did not meet with Imran when he made an unannounced visit to Islamabad last month to meet Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI head Lt Gen Faiz Hamid. Burns’s secret visit was aimed at exploring the possibility of counter-terrorism cooperation between the two sides.
Earlier this month, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan had claimed that the US had “constructive discussions” with Pakistan about ensuring that Afghanistan would never again become a base from which terrorist groups would attack it. He declined to go into specifics.
Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, had testified that the risk of attack on the US would only increase if the Afghanistan government collapsed and the country saw a civil war.
Defense secretary Lloyd Austin had told the congress this week that it would take terror groups like al-Qaeda and IS possibly two years to develop the capability to strike the US homeland.
Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had said that getting Pakistan on board the peace process in his country would be the pivotal factor to restoration of stability. “The US now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands,” Ghani said, referring to Pakistan military’s deep ties with the Taliban.