Pakistan to continue giving air, ground access, says Pentagon

Published May 24, 2021
Pakistan has allowed the US military to use its airspace and given ground access so that it can  support its presence in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon official. — AFP/File
Pakistan has allowed the US military to use its airspace and given ground access so that it can support its presence in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon official. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has allowed the US military to use its airspace and given ground access so that it can support its presence in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon official.

David F. Helvey, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Affairs, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the United States would continue its conversation with Pakistan because it had a critical role in restoring peace to Afghanistan.

The official was replying to a question from Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, who asked him to “outline your assessment of Pakistan, and particularly of Pakistani intelligence agencies, and the role you expect them to play in our future”.

“Pakistan has played an important role in Afghanistan. They supported the Afghan peace process. Pakistan also has allowed us to have overflight and access to be able to support our military presence in Afghanistan,” Mr Helvey said.

“We will continue our conversations with Pakistan because their support and contribution to the future of Afghanistan, to future peace in Afghanistan, is going to be critical,” he added.

Diplomatic sources in Washington told Dawn that Pakistan had always allowed overflights and ground access to the US to facilitate its military presence in Afghanistan and would continue to do so.

Earlier in the hearing, Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, asked the Pentagon official what type of manned or unmanned capabilities the US would need in the region to prevent “terrorists from returning to Afghanistan”.

“Things we cannot have in Afghanistan,” such as overflights, Mr Helvey. He said that there were other assets that were not available in the region and the US has the capability to bring them into the region “on a regular basis”.

Senator Manchin reminded him that with really no assets on the ground, Washington will have to rely on its regional partners to work with the US. “Are you confident of our regional partners and their capacity and commitment to drive terrorists out of the region?” he asked.

“We will have to work with our local and regional partners, and we want to continue developing those capabilities and those partnerships to be able to ensure that we have the right of framework to address the threats.”

The US Defence Department, he said, was “working today” with its inter-agency colleagues on the right type of arrangements, relationships and frameworks to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for terrorism.

Last month, President Joe Biden announced his plan to withdraw all US and Nato troops from Afghanistan by Sept 11 this year. The announcement followed a landmark

US-Taliban deal in Doha on Feb 29 last year to end the Afghan war and bring US troops home after America’s longest war.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told lawmakers in New York that Pakistan was seeking a broad-based, strategic partnership with America, which would also cover Afghanistan.

Mr Qureshi stressed the need for “a broad-based strategic partnership” that looks after the interests of both countries, said a statement.

The foreign minister’s meeting with the lawmakers followed a congressional hearing on Afghanistan in Washington last week.

During the hearing, several lawmakers and America’s chief negotiator for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, underlined Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process and expressed the desire to enhance bilateral ties.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2021

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