'US couldn’t win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years — how would it do it from bases in Pakistan?'

Published June 22, 2021
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan November 19, 2020. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan November 19, 2020. — Reuters/File

Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that if Pakistan were to agree to host US bases for action inside Afghanistan, it would again be targeted for revenge by terrorists if civil war ensued.

"We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price. Meanwhile, 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?" he said in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

Read: Pakistan will ‘absolutely not’ allow bases to US for action in Afghanistan: PM Imran

He added that Pakistan was ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the US. "But as US troops withdraw, we will avoid risking further conflict," he wrote.

He 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 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. "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."

Toll on Pakistan

Highlighting how Pakistan has suffered from the wars in Afghanistan, PM Imran 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."

He wrote that the US pressured Pakistan for the very first time to send troops into the semiautonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan "in the false expectation that it would end the insurgency".

"It didn’t, but it did internally displace half the population of the tribal areas, one million people in North Waziristan alone, with billions of dollars of damage done and whole villages destroyed. The 'collateral' damage to civilians in that incursion led to suicide attacks against the Pakistani Army, killing many more soldiers than the US lost in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, while breeding even more terrorism against us. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, 500 Pakistani policemen were murdered," he wrote.

He said that if there is further civil war in Afghanistan instead of a political settlement, the number of refugees in Pakistan will increase thereby "further impoverishing the frontier areas on our border".

Negotiated peace

He highlighted that the interests of Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan were the same.

"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. And we want economic development, and increased trade and connectivity in Central Asia, to lift our economy. We will all go down the drain if there is further civil war," he wrote.

"This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government. We know that if the Taliban tries to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed.

"We hope the Afghan government will also show more flexibility in the talks, and stop blaming Pakistan, as we are doing everything we can short of military action," PM Imran said.

Also read: Afghanistan must stop making Pakistan a scapegoat for its own failures: FM Qureshi

He went on to say that this is the reason Pakistan was part of recent "Extended Troika" joint statements, along with Russia, China and the US, which declared that any effort to impose a government by force in Kabul would be opposed by all four countries.

"These joint statements mark the first time four of Afghanistan’s neighbours and partners have spoken with one voice on what a political settlement should look like. This could also lead to a new regional compact for peace and development in the region, which could include a requirement to share intelligence and work with the Afghan government to counter emergent terrorist threats.

"Afghanistan’s neighbours would pledge not to allow their territory to be used against Afghanistan or any other country, and Afghanistan would pledge the same. The compact could also lead to a commitment to help Afghans rebuild their country," he said.

The premier concluded by saying that promoting economic connectivity and regional trade was the key to lasting peace and security in Afghanistan, adding that further military action was "futile".

"If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, once synonymous with the 'Great Game' and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation."

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