US Afghan drawdown may complete by ‘July 4’

Qureshi holds in-camera briefing for opposition lawmakers on current situation in neighbouring country


Kamran Yousaf June 01, 2021
US forces had carried out a strike in Sherzad on Friday in defence of "friendly forces", a spokesperson for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said in Kabul. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD:

The US may withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by July 4, well ahead of the September 11, 2021 deadline set by President Joe Biden last month.

This was revealed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi while holding in-camera briefing for the members of parliament from the opposition at the Foreign Office on Monday.

The briefing was arranged to give Pakistan’s assessment and its role in the current situation in the neighbouring country with particular reference to media reports regarding the US seeking air bases in the country.

One of the participants of the briefing told The Express Tribune while speaking on the condition of anonymity that the opposition lawmakers were informed that the US had accelerated the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and instead of completing the drawdown by September 11, the last US solider may leave the war-torn country by July 4.

Also read Post-US Afghan pullout: Need for joint Pak-Iran strategy stressed

"The US is running from Afghanistan," said the participant after the in-camera briefing.

The US began drawdown from May 1 and the process was supposed to complete by September 11, as per the revised plan given by the Biden administration.

However, the US has changed the plan and wants to leave Afghanistan at the earliest, according to Foreign Minister Qureshi.

The US and Nato have around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. The accelerated withdrawal has raised fears that the country might slip into another phase of civil war.

Originally, the US was to withdraw all troops by May 1, as part of the Doha agreement signed in February 2020. However, after months of review, President Biden extended the deadline from May 1 to September 11.

The Afghan Taliban reacted sharply to the decision and termed it a violation of the Doha deal.

The insurgent group has since been refusing to join the peace efforts and unwilling to attend the Istanbul Conference being convened by the US in cooperation with Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations.

Some of the participants feared that in the absence of a peace deal, the Taliban may take over Kabul by force.

Also read US sends more reinforcements for Afghan pullout

But the opposition lawmakers were told that Pakistan would not support a military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. "This is our stance in principle," Qureshi told the participants.

The opposition parliamentarians also sought clarity from Foreign Minister Qureshi about the possibility of giving the US air bases or allowing it to have some footprint in Pakistan.

Qureshi told the participants in categorical terms that Pakistan would not allow any US air base or agree to any arrangement that would give US permission to carry out counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan using the Pakistani soil.

The foreign minister insisted that the US had not sought any such facility from Pakistan. "The US is keen on maintaining military presence in the Central Asian States bordering Afghanistan," Qureshi was quoted as saying by another participant.

As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, there have been speculations that Washington wants to maintain its military footprint in the region in order to counter possible resurgence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

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