Is Biden Demanding Use of Pakistani Military Bases After Pullout From Afghanistan?

When President Joseph R. Biden announced his decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan, he said: "We will ask other countries in the region to support Afghanistan, especially Pakistan, as well as Russia, China, India and Turkey." Biden has also talked about the US reorganizing its counterterrorism capabilities in the region to be able to hit the target from “over the horizon.”  These discussions have triggered speculations about the Biden administration seeking access to military bases in Pakistan to target the Taliban after total US pullout from Afghanistan. Such speculations are strengthened by what Biden said in a Democratic Primary debate on September 12, 2019: "We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing airbases and insisting the Pakistanis provide bases for us”. There's even talk of possibly escalating US military operations in Afghanistan from bases in Pakistan.  

Afghanistan-Pakistan-US Relations

Responding to a question on the subject of "drone strikes and air strikes" asked in an interview by Voice of America's Ayesha Tanzeem, President Arif Alvi said: "I’m not aware, and I don’t think Pakistan will be in a position to offer that". 

Alvi's response has not diminished the ongoing speculation about Pakistan helping US military's counterinsurgency ops in Afghanistan. Nick Reynolds, an analyst at the London-based think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), has written a piece on it which brings in the United Kingdom helping the United States persuade Pakistan to allow the use of its territory to launch air strikes in Afghanistan. Here's an excerpt of Reynolds' article:

"Ultimately, counterterrorism operations will have to continue in the region, and the US, UK and NATO will be further entangled in Pakistani diplomatic affairs as a result. There is a risk that the UK and NATO, if they wish to support the US, will only be able to do so by striking into Afghanistan from basing in neighboring countries, effectively a continuation of one of the current lines of effort that the Biden administration is attempting to terminate, except with the bases moved across the Pakistani border. The US, UK and NATO may even end up seriously escalating combat operations in Afghanistan in some form in future, either to prevent the Afghan government from falling or to address Taliban support for terrorist networks if they are allowed to take power. The Biden administration seeks to end the ‘forever war’ by withdrawing. However, given the ongoing situation with Islamist terrorism globally, the forever war looks instead as if it is transitioning into a new and dangerous phase in which the UK and NATO will be forced to play a continuing role".

Back on September 12, 2019, Candidate Biden talked about seeking bases in Pakistan during the third Democratic Primary Presidential debate. Here's what he said then: 

"The whole purpose of going to Afghanistan was to not have a counterinsurgency, meaning that we're going to put that country together. It cannot be put together. Let me say it again. It will not be put together. It's three different countries. Pakistan owns the three counties -- the three provinces in the east. They're not any part of -- the Haqqanis run it. I will go on and on. But here's the point. The point is that it's a counterterrorism strategy. We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out of Afghanistan by providing for bases -- insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to air lift from and to move against what we know. We don't need those troops there. I would bring them home".

Should Pakistan yield to western pressure yet again as it did after 911? Pakistan has paid a very heavy price for working with the United States in the last two decades. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in attacks launched by groups opposed to US-Pakistan cooperation. Pakistan's economy has suffered hundreds of billions of dollars  of losses. And yet, Pakistan continues to be accused of double-dealing. Pakistani civilian and military leaders will undoubtedly face very strong internal opposition to the use of Pakistani territory for any US military operations in Afghanistan. 

Back in 2016, General David H. Petraeus thoroughly debunked intense media propaganda campaign of allegations of duplicity against Pakistan Army and ISI. He has also ruled out cutting ties with Pakistan as an option

General David Petraeus Speaking at RUSI in 2016

Here's the video of General Petraeus at RUSI. His remarks on Pakistan are in the last 8 minutes of the video:

Brief 1-minute clip:

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Haq's Musings


Riaz Haq said…
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke Wednesday by phone with Pakistan's top military official to discuss regional security and the foreign troop drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan.

Austin's conversation with General Qamar Javed Bajwa came as the last remaining 2,500 or so U.S. troops were preparing to begin pulling out of Afghanistan. The withdrawal, which starts Saturday and is to end by September 11, is intended to conclude America's longest war.

The Pentagon said Austin "expressed appreciation" for Pakistan's support for Afghan peace negotiations and "reaffirmed the importance" of Washington's relationship with Islamabad.

A readout of the conversation said the two leaders talked about the importance of regional stability and the desire for the United States and Pakistan to continue working together on "shared goals and objectives in the region."

The Pakistani military's media wing quoted Bajwa as telling Austin that peace in Afghanistan "means peace in Pakistan."

The general reiterated that his country would "always support [an] Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders."

The withdrawal of American forces and around 7,000 NATO troops is in line with a year-old agreement Washington negotiated with the Taliban.

Key role in talks

Pakistan, which has been accused of harboring insurgent sanctuaries, is credited with arranging the U.S.-Taliban talks that culminated in the signing of the agreement on February 29, 2020.

The deal encouraged the Taliban to open peace talks last September in Qatar with Afghan government negotiators, though the process has long been deadlocked and has largely failed to reduce deadly violence.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the American chief peace negotiator, told lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that the U.S. administration had urged Pakistani leaders to exercise their "considerable leverage" over the Taliban to reduce violence and support a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

"Pakistan has a special responsibility given its influence over the Taliban, so we appreciate what Pakistan has done so far," Khalilzad told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"But we are not there yet, and of course we look forward to working with them to get to a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the coming weeks and months," the U.S. envoy said.

The troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was supposed to be completed by May 1, as stipulated in the U.S.-Taliban deal. But U.S. President Joe Biden, while announcing the final drawdown plans earlier this month, cited logistical reasons for not meeting the deadline.


The 10-day Istanbul conference was supposed to start on April 24, but the Taliban's refusal forced the organizers to postpone it.

Meanwhile, senior officials from Russia, the U.S., China and Pakistan will reportedly meet on Friday to discuss ways to advance intra-Afghan peace talks.

"We will be discussing solutions to the current situation in the intra-Afghan negotiations. We will be trying to work out a common position to give an impetus for the talks to take place," Zamir Kabulov, Russian presidential envoy for Afghanistan, told the Tass news agency.

Kabulov did not say where the huddle would take place, but last month Moscow hosted envoys from the four nations, together with delegates of the Taliban and the Afghan government. They pressed the two warring parties to restart their stalled talks but were unsuccessful.

Riaz Haq said…
US to revive special #export zones in Pakistan & Afghanistan. #Karachi -born US Senator Van Hollen urged President #Biden to resume the US-Pakistan dialogue with a call to Prime Minister Imran Khan. #US needs Pakistan’s help to end the Afghan conflict

A bipartisan bill will soon be introduced in the US Senate to set up duty-free export zones along the Pak-Afghan border, says a senior US lawmaker.

The proposed legislation will allow these trade pockets, known as the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones or ROZs, to export certain duty-free goods to the United States, said Senator Van Hollen, a key Democrat on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr Van Hollen told a full committee hearing on the US policy in Afghanistan on Tuesday that elements within the Biden administration already support this proposal.

The Karachi-born US lawmaker also urged President Joe Biden to resume the US-Pakistan dialogue by calling Prime Minister Imran Khan because the US needs Pakistan’s support to end the Afghan conflict. He told the key witness, Zalmay Khalilzad, that he too had acknowledged Pakistan’s importance in resolving this dispute in previous statements.

Ambassador Khalilzad, a Trump appointee retained by the Biden administration as a special US representative, too recognised Pakistan’s “special role” in facilitating peace talks and backed Senator Van Hollen’s call for re-engaging Pakistan.

In 2009, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to establish ROZs in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Mr Biden too had backed this legislation, which was never implemented.

“We will be reintroducing that as a bipartisan bill soon,” Senator Van Hollen told the committee, adding that he believed increased trade in this region would contribute to peace.

“This would be a condition-based tool that the president of the United State will have the authority to calibrate, based on conditions on the ground,” he added.

“Is it the kind of tool that you believe could be useful in shaping some of the decisions about the future of Afghanistan?” he asked Ambassador Khalilzad.

“We support the idea of increased trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Central Asia, and we support increased trade between us and Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the envoy responded. “It seems to me that it is a very worthwhile concept to explore and work on.”

“I know other parts of the administration are looking at it as a positive tool that we can deploy in trying to shape the future of this region,” the senator said, adding that the proposed bill would soon go to the Senate Finance Committee.

The senator then engaged Ambassador Khalilzad in a discussion over Pakistan’s role in the Afghan conflict, pointing out that “the country that has the most direct, potential influence here is Pakistan.”

He reminded Mr Khalilzad that he too has acknowledged Pakistan’s importance, calling it a country that “has direct interest in stability in Afghanistan” and reasons to dislike “chaos and a full-blown war there.”

“Of course, Pakistan fought its own war with the Pakistani Taliban, did it not?” the senator asked. “It did,” Mr Khalilzad replied.

“You have pointed out that Pakistan has helped to facilitate your negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, is that right?” Senator Van Hollen asked again. “It has,” the envoy said.

“How would you characterise Pakistan’s support now?” the senator asked.

“They have been supportive of our efforts to press the Taliban to reduce violence, to enter negotiations with the government of Afghanistan, to be an active participant in peace negotiations including in a (planned) conference in Istanbul,” Mr Khalilzad said.

“Pakistan has a special responsibility given its influence over the Taliban and we appreciate what Pakistan has done so far but we are not there yet,” he said. “We look forward to working with them to get to a peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government in coming weeks and months.”
Riaz Haq said…
Zakaria: "Americans (have a) tradition of exaggerating the threats we face, from the Soviet Union to Saddam Hussein. As we scour the world for new foes, let’s learn to right-size our adversaries and find a way to run fast but not run scared" #BinLaden #US

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the operation, code-named Neptune Spear, that killed Osama bin Laden. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the state of Islamist terrorism and radical Islam more generally. And the initial diagnosis is clear: The movement is in bad shape.

Total deaths caused by terrorism around the world have plummeted by 59 percent since their peak in 2014. In the West, the current threat is less from Islamist violence than far-right terrorism, which has surged by 250 percent in the same period, and now makes up 46 percent of attacks and 82 percent of deaths.

Most Islamist terrorism today tends to be local — the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa. That’s a major reversal from the glory days of al-Qaeda, when its leaders insisted that the focus must be not on the “near enemy” (the local regimes) but rather the “far enemy” (the United States and the West more broadly). Al-Qaeda has disintegrated into a bunch of militias in disparate places with no central command or ideology. The Islamic State is doing slightly better, with more funds, but it, too, searches for unstable or ungoverned places, such as Mozambique, where it can operate. This focus on local conflicts erodes any global appeal. Muslims around the world do not identify with local causes in Mozambique or Somalia.

Militant Islam, which began to flourish in the 1970s, rooted its appeal in failure — the failure of the dictatorships and monarchies of the Arab world to develop their societies. Islamists urged Muslims to give up on Western-style modernization, which had led only to poverty and tyranny, and to embrace instead the idea of political Islam — the road to an Islamic state. People such as bin Laden and his associate Ayman al-Zawahiri turned political Islam into militant Islam because they argued it was the only way to topple the dictatorships of the Arab world and beyond. They urged terrorism against those regimes but most importantly, against the superpower that supported them — the United States.

In an essay in the journal Religions, Nader Hashemi points out that the allure of political Islam was always that of an untested opposition movement, a mystical alternative to the shoddy reality that existed on the ground in the Muslim world. But over the past few decades, Islamist parties have entered the political process in Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, Egypt, Gaza, Jordan and other places. “One general theme stands,” writes Hashemi. “The popular prestige of political Islam has been tarnished by its experience with state power.”

Millions of Muslims have now seen political Islam in action — and they don’t like it. They fled the Islamic State caliphate in droves. They protested against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They watched Shiite parties in Iraq turn into corrupt patronage operations. And in Iran, they continue to be deeply disenchanted by that country’s theocratic government. The oxygen that fed political Islam — disgust with the current regimes and blind faith in the promise of religious leaders — has been severely depleted.


The lessons to draw about Islam, Islamist terrorism and the prospects for democracy in Islamic countries are complicated and varied. 2021 is also the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring, when millions of Arabs tried to peacefully protest for democracy and human rights, a movement that sprouted up again over the past few years in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq. Though these efforts have had limited success, they show powerfully that Arabs and Muslims want freedom and democracy far more than they do a caliphate.
Riaz Haq said…
Why Biden won’t engage with Pakistan
US leader has not contacted his Pakistani counterpart despite Islamabad's crucial role in brokering an Afghan peace settlement

Islamabad has not yet publicly conveyed its reservations about the Biden administration’s perceived snubs, but senior officials admit privately that they feel the gestures have been deliberate and not mere diplomatic oversight.


Fast forward to the present, the new US administration likely wants Islamabad to demonstrate it is not a pliant proxy of China. That’s easier said than done in light of Beijing’s US$60 billion commitment to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key, strategic spoke of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Mushahid Hussain Syed, a Pakistani politician, analyst and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator, told Asia Times that there was a perceived lack of sensitivity and gratitude on the part of the US for what Pakistan has and is doing to “pull the American chestnuts out of the fire on Afghanistan.”

“While Pakistan is pressing the ‘right buttons’ on FATF, India, Afghanistan and terrorism issues, which the US considers key irritants, they still seem to view Pakistan through the prism of the emerging Cold War. They are aligning with India to contain the Chinese influence in the region, which is going to backfire. The US should have rather built bridges with Islamabad that strived to bail out Washington from its latest defeat in yet another land war in Asia,” Syed said.


While China’s economic influence looms large, Pakistan still needs Washington’s support, both to sustain disbursements of its $6 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and to be removed from the terror-financing and money-laundering watchdog Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list”, a designation that hinders Islamabad’s participation in global financial markets.

If Biden could influence either organization’s decision-making in Pakistan’s favor, he hasn’t done so yet. The IMF has so far released two tranches of $450 million each of an Extended Fund Facility program initiated in 2019, but delayed a second review meeting and the release of a third tranche last month without letting Pakistani officials know in advance.

Similarly, the FATF kept Pakistan on its grey list in February because “Pakistan must improve its investigations and prosecutions of all groups and entities financing terrorists and their associates and show that penalties imposed by courts are effective.” The next FATF plenary review of Pakistan’s status is due in June this year.

The proposals under consideration include so-called “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” (ROZs), an initiative first broached by the George W Bush administration in 2006 in return for Islamabad’s support for the US “war on terror” in neighboring Afghanistan, where al Qaeda was then known to maintain bases.

The committee has also proposed the formation of a US-Pakistan Economic Zone at Karachi’s port to re-process industrial goods at concessional rates for export to US markets. The apex committee’s work has so far remained confined to working papers in the absence of an opportunity for Khan to engage personally with Biden’s team.

Mushahid opined that the new US administration seems confused about Pakistan’s role in the Afghanistan peace process, a communication breakdown that could fatally hinder ties.

“The only clarity seems to be a readiness to scapegoat Pakistan if and when things go wrong in Afghanistan,” said Syed, “while conjuring up the ‘China threat’ to justify their bloated military budgets.”

Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan Says NO to #US Bases. #Biden administration has acknowledged it's in talks with #Afghanistan's neighbors to examine where it can reposition troops to prevent landlocked country from once again becoming a #terrorist base for groups like al-Qaida.

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.

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