WASHINGTON: Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States, but will not allow US military bases on its soil, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said in an opinion piece published in a leading American newspaper on Tuesday.
“We simply cannot afford this. We have already paid too heavy a price,” the Pakistani leader wrote in The Washington Post ahead of US President Joe Biden meeting with the top Afghan leaders at the White House later this week.
“If Pakistan were to agree to host US bases, from which to bomb Afghanistan and an Afghan civil war ensued, Pakistan would be targeted for revenge by terrorists again,” he said.
American officials have said Biden’s talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on Friday will discuss US troop withdrawal amid a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country.
As US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote, "We will avoid risking further conflict”.
"Meanwhile," he added, "if the United States, with the most powerful military machine in history, couldn't win the war from inside Afghanistan after 20 years, how would America do it from bases in our country?"
Pakistan and the US have the same interest in Afghanistan -- a political settlement, stability, economic development and the denial of any haven for terrorists, Prime Minister Khan said, pointing out that Islamabad had made every effort to facilitate the Afghan peace process.
"We oppose any military takeover of Afghanistan, which will lead only to decades of civil war, as the Taliban cannot win over the whole of the country, and yet must be included in any government for it to succeed."
In the past, he said, Pakistan made a mistake by choosing between warring Afghan parties, but now Islamabad has no favourites and will work with any government that enjoys the confidence of the Afghan people.
"History proves that Afghanistan can never be controlled from the outside."
Pakistan had suffered so much from the wars in Afghanistan -- more than 70,000 Pakistanis killed, the prime minister said, adding that the losses to Pakistani economy have exceeded $150 billion.
"After joining the US effort," the prime minister said: "Pakistan was targeted as a collaborator, leading to terrorism against our country from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other groups.
"US drone attacks, which I warned against, didn't win the war, but they did create hatred for Americans, swelling the ranks of terrorist groups against both our countries.
"While I argued for years that there was no military solution in Afghanistan, the United States pressured Pakistan for the very first time to send our troops into the semi autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, in the false expectation that it would end the insurgency. It didn't, but it did internally displace half the population of the tribal areas, 1 million people in North Waziristan alone, with billions of dollars of damage done and whole villages destroyed," PM Khan added.
The interests of Pakistan and the US in Afghanistan were the same - a negotiated peace, not civil war, he said.
“We need stability and an end to terrorism aimed at both our countries. We support an agreement that preserves the development gains made in Afghanistan in the past two decades. And we want economic development, and increased trade and connectivity in Central Asia, to lift our economy. We will all go down the drain if there is further civil war.”
"This is why we have done a lot of real diplomatic heavy lifting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, first with the Americans, and then with the Afghan government," the prime minister said.
"We know that if the Taliban tries to declare a military victory, it will lead to endless bloodshed. We hope the Afghan government will also show more flexibility in the talks, and stop blaming Pakistan, as we are doing everything we can short of military action. This is also why we were part of the recent 'Extended Troika' joint statements, along with Russia, China and the United States, unambiguously declaring that any effort to impose a government by force in Kabul would be opposed by us all, and also would deprive Afghanistan access to the foreign assistance it will need," noting that four of Afghanistan's neighbours and partners have spoken with one voice on what a political settlement should look like.
Pakistan believes that promoting economic connectivity and regional trade was the key to lasting peace and security in Afghanistan, he said, adding further military action was futile.
"If we share this responsibility, Afghanistan, once synonymous with the 'Great Game' and regional rivalries, could instead emerge as a model of regional cooperation."