The United States’ decision to set up six permanent military bases in Afghanistan will be the focus of talks when the presidents of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet in Tehran on June 25, an official told The Express Tribune on Friday.
Washington’s attempt to strike a strategic military pact with Kabul to build permanent bases in Afghanistan is opposed by Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, China and Russia, including Pakistan.
“The trilateral talks will also discuss the implications of US and Nato forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled to begin next month,” the official said.
Karzai had publicly opposed the US move. He believed that the permanent presence of US forces in his country would be worrisome for Afghanistan’s neighbours. The Afghan president, however, left the issue to be resolved by the Afghan Parliament.
Islamabad is also opposed to the idea of permanent US bases in Afghanistan, and describes the move as a new “Great War in Afghanistan”, but it is not prepared to discuss the issue at the international level, a senior Foreign Office official told The Express Tribune.
Officials learnt at the eleventh hour that President Asif Ali Zardari will also have to attend trilateral talks on the Afghan issue on the sidelines of the conference.
The decision was astonishing for the ministry of foreign affairs as it had no prior knowledge that Tehran would make such a major change in the schedule, which originally included just the conference.
Some foreign office officials were even irked by the move as they considered Tehran’s move to be motivated.
“This (seems to be) an attempt on the part of Tehran to gain undue importance on the Afghan issue,” a senior official at the ministry of foreign affairs told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity .
The Iranian decision has forced Islamabad to reconstitute its delegation, which now includes the state minister for foreign affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar in the President’s entourage.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.