Pakistan has agreed to reopen Nato supply routes, but has turned down United States’ request to extend the facility beyond the 2014 deadline earlier set for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan.
Senior diplomats and defence officials told The Express Tribune that Americans would like to continue using the land routes and want to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan. The US would then remain the only external force in the region after Nato and Isaf’s exit.
They claim that Washington intends to establish at least three permanent bases, one each in Bagram (close to the capital city of Kabul), Kandahar and Herat, to stay in the country till 2024. This is contrary to its earlier claims of handing over security arrangements to Afghanistan and exiting the war-torn region by 2014.
According to recent reports, the United States’ counter-terrorism campaign includes drone strikes around the Durand Line for the next 10 years.
An official privy to negotiations said though neither side had entered into a definitive agreement on allowing the use of Nato land routes till 2024, it was one of the factors that kept Pakistan from taking the decision for so long.
The officials from diplomatic and defence quarters wished to remain anonymous because they are not authorised to speak on the subject. They maintain that both sides have decided not to push too hard and leave the matter for now.
“The ultimate decision was let’s move forward for now and leave this issue for when the time comes,” said one of them.
“Pakistan is going to be their (US) best bet when they are alone in Afghanistan,” said a Peshawar-based security analyst Rustam Shah Mohmand, who says US’s dependence will increase after the exit of other international forces.
Mohmand, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan in the past, said no other regional power such as China, Russia or Iran would ever allow Americans to transport supplies through their territory the way Islamabad has. His logic is simple: “no one likes to invite trouble in their backyard.”
Officials said Pakistan opposes the US plan to establish a military base in Kandahar, a southern Afghanistan province close to the Durand Line, said to be the heartland of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar.
China, Iran and Russia are also not happy with this idea. Iran, particularly, is wary of a US base in Herat, which has a majority of non-Pakhtun Shia communities with strong ideological ties with Tehran.
The officials say Pakistan is now set to face stiff resistance from regional powers. “That is why,” one of them said, “officials have been repeatedly arguing that the matter does not just concern the Americans, but a cluster of 49 countries.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2012.