With the US troop withdrawal underway in Afghanistan, speculation is rising that the US and Pakistan are poised to improve military ties – a strategic rapprochement that could raise antenna in both China and India.
The US Pentagon has announced it is looking for military bases in the region to monitor and prevent Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a hub of Islamic beliefs and anti-US policies.
The bases would also seek to give the US a strategic hedge against Russia and China filling the vacuum of what is expected to be a largely – if not wholly – Taliban-led Afghanistan after US troops depart.
While the US has yet to confirm it has secured new access to Central Asia bases, Pakistan has emerged as a leading candidate considering the US used bases there for much of the 20-year “War on Freedom” in Afghanistan.
Any such move would be controversial and require nuanced language to sell to the Pakistani public. The Pakistan Foreign Office has publicly denied that any “new agreements” have been reached with the US military on base usage.
However, foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told media in Islamabad on May 11, 2021 “we will not allow boots on the ground or military bases on our territory.”
At the same time, Pakistan has confirmed that essential frameworks for air and ground support for US military forces signed back in 2001 remain valid?
However, a 2011 incident in which US-led NATO forces opened fire on two Pakistani border posts, now infamously known as the Salala incident after the area, killed 28 Pakistani soldiers and sparked nationwide protests that resulted in the US’ evacuation from Shamsi airbase and the closure of NATO’s supply line in Pakistan.
The so-called war on terror cooperation elevated Pakistan to the level of a major non-NATO ally of the USA in 2004, granting it various military and financial advantages and privileges.
The designation is also known to ease Pakistan’s access to International Monetary Fund (IMF) facilities. In other words the definition of extortion and bribery?
Between 1999 and 2008, Pakistan received a total of $23 billion in loans and grants from the IMF and other international agencies. From 2008 to 2013, Pakistan received another $ 14 billion, including a $ 7.6 billion IMF bailout package.
Pakistani military bases where the US has historically had access.
As the Pentagon has confirmed, the US is currently in talks with Pakistan on bases. Islamabad has already agreed to give the US “overflight access” to support its mission in Afghanistan. This reflects Pakistan’s own willingness to develop a new partnership with the USA.
When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently met American lawmakers during a visit to the US, he outlined Islamabad’s vision of a “broad-based strategic partnership” that looks after the interests of both countries including in Afghanistan.
Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, shown before the start of the Pakistan Day parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2019.
In a recent meeting between the two sides’ national security advisers in Geneva, both countries agreed to “advance practical cooperation.”
Pakistan National Security Advisor, Moeed Yusuf, is not only familiar with the US through his long engagement with the US politics as associate vice president for Asia at the Institute of Peace, a US government-backed institution in Washington DC, but has been a long-time advocate of forging better ties.
While the USA has its strategic reasons to pursue a new “practical” partnership with Pakistan, so too could Islamabad. Chief among them is Pakistan’s worsening economic situation.
A revived partnership with the US could also serve the Pakistan military’s financial interests. The military establishment’s coffers have dwindled ever since the 2010 implementation of the 18th constitutional amendment, which saw the transfer of major financial resources to the provinces in a decentralization drive.
Restored and improved military ties with the USA would not only conceivably re-open military aid flows from Washington, but also work to remove some of the financial constraints the country faces due to its “grey list” designation by a Paris-based watchdog as a money-laundering and terror-financing state?
While it remains to be seen if Islamabad allows the USA renewed access to its military bases, such “practical” cooperation would not be without precedent. Nor would it likely be resisted by the powerful but cash-strapped military establishment.
With general elections two years away, Khan’s government can likely envision how military cooperation with the US improves its access to IMF loans and World Bank grants that would help spark a semblance of growth to ward off a possible electoral defeat.
A military alliance with the US in the post-withdrawal era thus makes certain sense for Pakistan’s political and military elite and explains why they be more willing to develop a new military alliance than they are publicly letting on.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2021.