Imran Khan in the dock over providing support to US military for Afghanistan: Pakistan is witnessing a storm over its alleged support to the US in its military operations in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is being hauled over the coals for providing air and ground access to the US military for Afghanistan.
The controversy started last Friday in the US and continues to singe the Imran Khan government in Islamabad. It also keeps the fire burning on the Af-Pak region as the US begins withdrawal of its troops from the region.
Pentagon official, David F Helvey, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the US will continue to engage with Pakistan as the latter has played an important role in supporting the peace process in Afghanistan. Importantly, Helvey, who is the Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Affairs, said that Pakistan allowed the US military to fly over Pakistani airspace to carry out its operations in Afghanistan, where the US has been engaged in counter-terror operations for nearly two decades.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted Helvey as saying: “Pakistan has played an important role in Afghanistan and they have supported the Afghan peace process”. Helvey added: “We will continue our conversations with Pakistan because their support and their contribution to the future of Afghanistan, the future of peace in Afghanistan is going to be critical”. The Pentagon official made it clear that Pakistan will provide airspace as well as logistical help to the US in future also.
The Opposition was quick to take up the issue with the government. Many voiced opposition to providing ground and air support to the Americans.
Ahsan Iqbal of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) raised the issue in the National Assembly and sought a clarification from the government.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Siraj-ul Haq issued a warning to the Imran Khan government. He said that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for participating in someone else’s war and lost over 80,000 lives and infrastructure worth billions. He added that by engaging in foreign wars, the Imran Khan government is only endangering internal security and has pushed the country into a state of debt.
Under pressure from the political parties, Foreign minister Mehmood Qureshi, just back from a trip to Turkey and New York over the Israel-Palestine issue, addressed the Senate – the upper house of the Parliament. He assured the parliamentarians that the country will not lend its military bases to the US for future operations in Afghanistan and will also not give permission for drone attacks inside Pakistan.
Qureshi said: “Let this house and the Pakistani nation be a witness to my testimony that under Imran Khan there will be no American base built on Pakistani soil. Forget about the past,” he said. To control the damage, he further added that once US troops withdraw by September, Pakistan would work for the advancement of peace in its neighbouring country.
The Pakistan foreign office rushed to salvage the government’s reputation. Foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafiz Chaudhri said: “Any speculation on this account was baseless and irresponsible and should be avoided”. He added that “Pakistan and the US have a framework of cooperation in terms of Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) in place since 2001. No new agreement has been made in this regard”.
Despite the assurances by the foreign minister, the controversy is not going to abate easily as the US insisted that Pakistan has been a big help in the war against terror and will provide support to the US in the future also.