Pakistan will “absolutely not” allow the US Central Intelligence Agency to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan told “Axios on HBO” in a broad interview airs Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
Why it matters: The quality of counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan is a critical issue facing the Biden administration as US forces move closer to full withdrawal by September 11.
The Biden administration is also exploring options in Central Asia to maintain intelligence on terrorist networks in Afghanistan, but this is complicated for a different reason: those countries are within the sphere of influence of Vladimir Putin.
Where is it: Despite a difficult relationship with Pakistan, whose military has close ties to the Taliban, the United States has carried out hundreds of drone strikes and cross-border counterterrorism operations from Pakistani soil.
But Khan, who was elected in 2018, was unequivocal: Pakistan will never again allow the CIA or US special forces to be based inside his country, he told Axios.
Between the Lines: Khan has long objected to Pakistan cooperating with the United States’ war on terror, but the reality is that he also has no choice but to say so publicly.
Careful observers say it would be political suicide for Khan to accept the presence of the CIA or special forces on Pakistani soil. US officials still privately hope they can strike a secret deal with Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services.
CIA Director William Burns did not meet Khan when he recently unexpectedly traveled to Islamabad to meet the head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, amid questions on how the CIA will adapt after two decades of intelligence and paramilitary operations. in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States had had “constructive discussions” with Pakistan to ensure Afghanistan would never return. a base from which terrorist groups could attack the United States, but declined to go into details.
And then: Burns warned of the “significant risk” of regrouping al-Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan. “When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the ability of the US government to collect and respond to threats will diminish,” he said. in April. “This is simply a fact.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress this week that it may take two years for militant groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS to develop the ability to strike the American homeland.
The bottom line: This risk will only increase if the Afghan government collapses and the country falls into a civil war, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley.
Pakistan’s adherence to the peace process will be the key factor, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last month in an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel: “The United States now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistan. hands.”
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