ISLAMABAD: The military and intelligence leadership took a more nuanced approach at the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on the future of ties with the United States than some of the recent government statements.
Some of the parliamentarians who attended the meeting, in their background discussions with Dawn on Friday, said the military and intelligence leadership emphasised that while ties with China were strong and could not be sacrificed, a healthy relationship with the US would have to be maintained.
The meeting took place on Thursday and continued late into the night. The discussions at the meeting had centered on the emerging regional environment, the strategic challenges faced by the country, and the internal security situation. Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Faiz Hamid gave a presentation at the meeting on these issues.
The parliamentarians were curious to know about military views on Pakistan’s ties with the US, which are set to undergo a major transformation due to the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan and the growing competition between the US and China.
Parliamentarians briefed that Pakistan’s influence on Afghan Taliban is very limited
The committee was presented a range of possible scenarios and told that prudent choices would have to be made that could best serve the country’s interest.
Concerns were mentioned about the US growing strategic cooperation with India through a multitude of bilateral and multilateral arrangements, the chaos being left behind by the Americans in Afghanistan to keep the region unstable, and Washington’s China containment policy. But, at the same time, the need for maintaining a working relationship with the US was emphasised.
To quote an opposition member, the military and intelligence leaders sounded more realistic than recent statements by Prime Minister Imran Khan that pointed to a tougher line on ties with the US.
Another senior parliamentarian said that although there were clear indications of an impending “strategic reorientation” of the foreign policy because of the geo-political developments, it was also obvious that there was no desire for being seen “overtly pro-China”.
The sense that the parliamentarians got from the meeting was that while Pakistan has refused to host CIA’s drone bases for future counterterrorism operations, the negotiations on future of security cooperation were continuing and progress was likely.
About the Air and Ground Lines of Communication (ALOCS/GLOCS), which the US uses for supporting its troops in Afghanistan (and now for retrograde operation as well), it was said that those were governed by a 2015 MoU, which is renewed annually. It was said that the agreement provided for transport of non-lethal material, but the US at least on two occasions violated it.
The meeting was told that Pakistan would not like to see Taliban forming an emirate in Afghanistan like the 1990s, but it was noted that the insurgent group, which had captured a lot of territory since the start of withdrawal of foreign forces in May, looks unstoppable.
“The 18th century mindset is unacceptable,” it was said.
The extended troika on Afghanistan, of which Pakistan is also a part, had in a communiqué after its meeting on May 1 said that “the establishment in Afghanistan of any government imposed by force” would not be supported. Other members of the troika are the US, Russia and China.
Pakistan’s major strategic interest in Afghanistan is that the Afghan territory is not used against it.
A major worry in Islamabad is that about 6,500 Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters, currently based in Afghanistan, may reconnect with the Afghan Taliban in the event of fall of Kabul. This concern is said to be based on Afghan Taliban’s past track record of not taking on the TTP.
Moreover, Taliban victory in Afghanistan, it is apprehended, could serve as a morale booster for the violent extremist organisations in Pakistan rejuvenating their support base and earning them recruits and funds.
The TTP and Afghan Taliban were described at the meeting as two sides of the same coin because of their ideological connection.
The meeting was informed that Pakistan’s influence on Afghan Taliban was very limited.
The security officials feared that Afghanistan was drifting towards more violence in coming weeks and months and the instability there could have a spillover effect on Pakistan as well. It is apprehended that up to 700,000 new Afghan refugees could come to Pakistan that is already hosting around three million of them.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2021