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Pakistan’s stance on US airbases is right

The US-Pakistan relations have bounced back into focus once again opening a new chapter in the fractious relationship spreading over decades.

The relationship had gone cold owing to the topsy-turvy situation in Afghanistan where the US and NATO forces have experienced a massive setback and now have decided to wriggle out of the quagmire.

In the changed scenario Pakistan has again assumed quite a crucial place in the geostrategic considerations of America and there is apparent enthusiasm for Pakistan witnessed by the Biden administration though the White House is rather indifferent about Pakistan.

A new element has, however, crept in the equation with Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a 19 June interview with a foreign television network, definitively put to rest important speculation namely, that Pakistan was not engaged in talks about hosting American military airbases so that the US could monitor the evolving political and military situation in Afghanistan in the post-draw-down years.

Since this was the most crucial question — with multiple ramifications — in the context of the uncertain situation in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister’s decision must be viewed from different perspectives.

There is hardly any doubt about the poignancy of his enunciation but it has to be seen in its correct perspective.

All rational segments in Pakistan concede that Pakistan needs to have normal and functional relations with the US based on the shared political, economic and strategic interests of two sovereign states.

Pakistan has had enough of its past skewed and unequal relationship with Washington. History underscores how the aforementioned always resulted in disillusionment and frustration for the people of Pakistan.

Before making such a sensitive demand, the Americans should have had a glance in the rear-mirror review and assessed their past treatment of Pakistan. Yet they have become accustomed to taking Islamabad for granted, never expecting in their wildest imagination to be told ‘no’. From Iskander Mirza, General Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari to Nawaz Sharif — the Americans, for the first time, have confronted a leader of a different mettle.

One who has an unshakeable confidence in the strength of his nation of 220 million people and to whom the support of the citizenry matters more for his political longevity than the borrowed crutches of a foreign power.

Moves borne of conviction change the course of destiny. Prime Minister Imran Khan has stood his ground. Now it is the turn of the country to stand by him.

Naturally, the premier is aware that the hasty withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan — in the absence of a power-sharing formula and ceasefire negotiated between the Taliban and Kabul — is going to plunge the country into unprecedented civil war.

In the 1990s, civil strife caused more destruction and bloodshed than occurred during the invasion and subsequent occupation by the rampaging Red Army. This time around, the Taliban are at war with fully trained military that is armed with sophisticated weapons and supported by the withdrawing countries and their allies in the region, and within the country.

For sure, the civil war that is already unfolding in Afghanistan promises to be a long and more destructive affair with the potential spillover into neighbouring countries.

There is no love lost between any of these groups and Pakistan. Thus, the civil war that is fast evolving in Afghanistan would pose formidable challenges to this country in terms of refugee influxes, instability in the bordering regions and access to the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Our military strength would have to equally stretch to both our western and eastern borders.

With all this brewing just beyond the border, it naturally remains well within our national interests not to get embroiled in the question of hosting US airbases; which would have far reaching geo-strategic consequences.

Not least because such a move would definitely anger the Taliban and their allied militia groups, if any. We lost over 50,000 people in militant attacks during the Musharraf regime with the TTP emerging from the ashes of banned militant outfits.

Pakistan’s military had to carry out sustained campaigns to eject them from Swat, as well as North and South Waziristan. Such a situation should be avoided at all costs. We don’t want a repeat of that terrible situation and certainly not for the sake of a few billion greenbacks.

Pakistan has largely contributed to peace, security and stability in Afghanistan by supporting a regional approach to this old festering imbroglio in close coordination with other dtakeholders: the US, Russia, China, Turkey and Iran. Pakistan, with its long and unstable border with Afghanistan and millions of Afghan refugees inside its territory, has more stakes in a peaceful and stable Afghanistan than other countries.

Its very political, economic and strategic well-being depends on it.

The fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has been, and remains, a crucible for multiple armed groups, including Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which now goes under
the name of the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

It is also more than obvious that the US still has some capacity to destabilise the Imran Khan government — to the glee of certain desperate political and religious leaders.

It could aim to squeeze Pakistan economically through the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and FATF (Financial Action Task Force).

But Washington is no longer the sole superpower. Much water has passed under the bridge and other powers have emerged at the global level to challenge American political and economic hubris. We have to decide if we want to live within our means as a sovereign nation with pride and dignity or surrender before the lure of economic aid at the expense of our national interests.

Sadly, the latter has been the case over the last seven decades. It is imperative that Pakistan close the book on this destructive habit.

Indeed, we have all the resources to become a self-sustained country. Foreigners, upon visiting here, envy our extravagant lifestyles that boast palatial homes and luxury cars.

They are doubly shocked when they witness widespread poverty and come across the legendary plunder and mismanagement of funds in the country; including the ratio of paid taxes which is the lowest in all of South Asia.

This must change if we want to forge ahead as a sovereign nation. The prevailing situation demands a radical reorientation within the entire policy devising matrix.

The recent opening with America is required to be analysed rather in detail and with pragmatic mindset so that positive desired results are tine without causing an untoward situation in the process. It is however promises to be a development that needs intense discussing before taking any final decision.

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