Pakistan’s Prime Minister has stoutly refused to host US bases for action inside Afghanistan, saying it would again be targeted for revenge by terrorists if civil war ensued.
Imran Khan suggests the country is averse to taking geopolitical risks after US boots on the ground begin the scheduled outward march In September.
He has posed a remarkably pertinent query ~ “If the US, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?” This is fairly logical. “We simply cannot afford this.”
He has reaffirmed, however, that Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the US. But as US troops withdraw, “we will avoid risking further conflict.”
Mr Khan said that Pakistan and the US had the same interest in “that long-suffering country” ~ a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists.
“We oppose any military takeover of Afghanistan, which will lead only to decades of civil war, as the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and yet must be included in any government for it to succeed,” he said.
He admitted that in the past, Pakistan had made a mistake by choosing between warring Afghan parties, but added that the country had learned from that experience. There is, therefore, little or no scope for power games.
“We have no favourites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people. History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from the outside.”
The critical task of controlling fractious Afghanistan is likely to become still more complex when the country is left to its own devices, post the pullout of US forces.
Highlighting how Pakistan has suffered from the wars in Afghanistan, Mr Khan said: “More than 70,000 Pakistanis have been killed. While the US provided $20 billion in aid, losses to the Pakistani economy have exceeded $150 billion. Tourism and investment dried up. After joining the US effort, Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other groups. US drone attacks, which I warned against, didn’t win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries.”
While suspicions will persist that Mr Khan may be upping the ante, he has on the face of it advanced a pragmatic assessment of geostrategy.
“We want a negotiated peace, not civil war. We need stability and an end to terrorism aimed at both our countries. We support an agreement that preserves the development gains made in Afghanistan in the past two decades,” he has said.
If the powerful military establishment that dominates Pakistan shares this view, India and other countries in the region might feel reassured.
The real concern, as ever, is how Pakistan’s Army and ISI conduct themselves; for India has already voiced fears that an Afghanistan under the Taliban could be used to stage terrorist attacks on other countries.