The Foreign Office (FO) has denied the presence of any US military or air base in Pakistan, stating that any speculation is "baseless and irresponsible" and should be avoided.
In a statement issued late Monday night, FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudri said: "There is no US military or air base in Pakistan, nor was any such proposal envisaged. Any speculation on this account is baseless and irresponsible and should be avoided."
The spokesperson added that Pakistan and the US have a framework of cooperation in terms of Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) in place since 2001.
"No new agreement has been made in this regard," he said.
'Pakistan is in safe hands'
On Tuesday, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed submitted a calling attention notice in the Senate on reports of "providing air and ground access to American forces on Pakistani territory". It said such a decision would be a grave violation of the parliament's unanimously adopted terms of engagement for American/foreign forces adopted on April 12, 2012, and would be contrary to the national security interests of Pakistan.
Speaking about the matter while giving a policy statement in the upper house, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also said "reports regarding [US] bases are baseless".
"I want to clarify that we will neither allow any drone [strike] nor will an American base be established here," he added.
"Pakistan is in safe hands."
Pakistan to continue giving air, ground access, says Pentagon
The FO statement comes after a Pentagon official said that Pakistan had allowed the US military to use its airspace and given ground access so that it can support its presence in Afghanistan.
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.
NSAs meet in Geneva, agree to step up Pak-US cooperation
Meanwhile, Pakistan and the United States have set the stage for a fresh impetus of their bilateral ties with pledges of greater engagement and economic cooperation.
The icebreaker between Islamabad and Washington took place on Sunday in Geneva where national security advisers Jake Sullivan of the US and Moeed Yusuf of Pakistan met and, according to a statement jointly issued by them, “agreed to advance practical cooperation”.
This was the first highest-level physical contact between the two countries since the Biden administration took office.
Bilateral relations, according to a diplomatic source, were a major point on the agenda of the NSAs’ Geneva meeting, but other issues like India, Afghanistan and economic cooperation which keep affecting the ties too were discussed at length.
Moeed Yusuf complained about lesser engagement with Pakistan by the new administration in its early days. His American counterpart claimed that it happened so because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a greater focus on internal issues. He promised more and sustained engagement.
The discussion was described by both sides as “positive”.
Moeed Yusuf said in a tweet: “Pleased to meet US NSA@JakeSullivan46, yesterday. Pakistan and US delegations held positive discussions on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. Both sides agreed to continue the conversation to advance cooperation in Pak-US bilateral relations.”
According to an insider, more exchanges between the two sides are expected in near future.