The scramble for military bases is seemingly on. Neither Russia nor the US wasted much time in showing their un-hidden hand in Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter much that there have been denials by almost all concerned.
The plot had already thickened by the time American media reported, earlier this the month, that Washington wanted to redeploy troops and equipment leaving Afghanistan into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Indeed, the US Centcom chief briefed the Senate about the small number of troops that would remain ‘nearby’.
The Afghan news cycle went into overdrive with unconfirmed reports that Moscow was hoping to establish a military base in Tajikistan along the Afghan border. Perhaps in a bid not to be outdone or outshone, came news — again unsubstantiated but reported by two outlets known for tracking the Durand Line — that Washington was looking to do the same here in Pakistan.
Such loose talk has sent shockwaves through the region. For while Russia’s expanded influence and presence in the Central Asian Republics (CARs) is well-known — the Tajikistan question was not. All of which prompted Moscow to deflection by confirming that neither Dushanbe nor Tashkent would permit US military bases on their soil. As far as Pakistan went, it was left to the Foreign Office to reject outright any possibility of hosting an American airbase. The memories of the Shamsi airfield fiasco still too close for comfort amid mounting concerns over the fate of the Nasirabad airbase.
The Americans have reportedly long had their eye on setting up shop here. Indeed, these rumours date back to the first post-Musharraf civilian regime, fuelling additional concerns about Balochistan’ gold mines. Nevertheless, pundits now worry that the US will try to dangle the cash-carrot of $300 million in suspended financial assistance as an incentive for Pakistan to play American ball.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was right to remind Washington that Afghanistan is a sovereign state and that Pakistan cannot do the American bidding there. By the same token, the US must also recognise Pakistan’s sovereignty. For long gone are the days when the 2004 rules of engagement along the Af-Pak border ‘permitted’ US forces to enter this side in hot pursuit of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan must be stand firm on this front. Especially given the chatter about a resurgent ISIS and Al Qaeda next door.
The Biden White House must surely recognise that any military base here would attract the usual suspects, some of whom may or may not still seek the country’s nuclear blueprint. It must also remember how the Obama-era CIA boasted about mission accomplished in Afghanistan in terms of flushing out all but the remnants of Al Qaeda, before cavalierly noting that the majority had fled to this side of the border.
The sooner Washington comes clean on its exit plan the better. For Afghanistan deserves more than to be a pawn in Great Game power plays. And Pakistan cannot afford to become the next active battleground. *
Source: Daily Times