The rapid withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is currently in process. The Biden Administration has set the deadline of September 11 this year, which will also be marked as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The US, in my view, cannot afford to disassociate itself from Afghanistan completely. In the regional scenario, China and Russia are increasingly asserting their importance day by day. Many countries are coming close to China for their economic and defence needs. That’s why the international media is of the view that the US desperately needs military bases in neighbouring countries to keep an eye on Afghanistan and the region.
Twenty years ago, some Central Asian countries, in response to the 9/11 tragedy, provided military bases to the United States, but today the situation has changed. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have become an active part of a Russian-led regional defence alliance. Tajikistan already has Russia’s largest overseas military base with more than 5,000 Russian troops. The national constitution of Uzbekistan prevents providing bases to foreign players. Similarly, Kyrgyzstan has also been hosting Russian bases for some time.
Over the past two decades, China’s influence in the Central Asian States has grown rapidly. Joint military exercises with China and Russia have become routine there. In my view, China, Russia and the countries of Central Asia have succeeded in establishing close relations with all parties in Afghanistan and are keen to play a proactive role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the United States.
No doubt, Pakistan has played a pivotal role in the ‘war against terror’. A large number of our brave soldiers and innocent people sacrificed their lives to achieve the noble cause. However, it is quite unfortunate that we are still in a dilemma on the foreign front. Apparently, we are once again standing confused where we were in the 1990s and September 11, 2001.
There are numerous reports emerging in the international media about the possible role of Pakistan after the withdrawal of US forces this year. The New York Times, in its latest report, disclosed that the negotiations with Pakistan over the issue of providing military bases to the US had reached an impasse. It is further reported that the CIA and other US security agencies are interested in maintaining their presence in Afghanistan for intelligence-gathering, war-fighting and counterterrorism operations in the country. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in response to the said report, has announced that Pakistan will not be giving military bases to the US. According to him, there’s no question of Pakistan providing bases to America.
Although the US is determined to leave Afghanistan, no clear policy has been shared with the international community to address the threats posed by the post-withdrawal situation. Due to such uncertainty, the China-Russia regional alliance is ready to give a tough time to the US whereas India is trying to make its place in the new scenario. Iran, known as the US’s worst rival in the region, also came close with China after signing an historic agreement.
In my view, Pakistan will be the hardest hit by the hasty withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. The presence of anti-Pakistan elements in the current Afghan government and Pakistan’s past actions against the Taliban could cause troubles for us. If a new civil war breaks out there, once again Pakistan has to face a large number of Afghan refugees. Similarly, if anti-Pakistan elements come to power in Afghanistan, there could be full-fledged hostility on the western borders.
Pakistan should not wait for the completion of the US withdrawal but should start working on a comprehensive Afghan policy immediately. We must understand that the situation in our region is changing rapidly. Unnecessary rhetoric and emotional narrative may end up harming our national interests.
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.