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Tariq Butt, Correspondent
Top defence officials of Pakistan have told senior American visitors that country's air bases are “an absolute no-go,” while brushing aside speculation about the possible assent of Islamabad to give any such facility to the US for future operations in Afghanistan.
“There is no such thing,” one official, who is privy to what has been discussed between the US and Pakistan’s defence and security officials in recent weeks and months, said according to a report.
Another report said that government officials have privately begun confirming a secret visit to Islamabad of CIA Director William Burns and are suggesting that he was firmly told that Pakistan would not host the spy agency’s drone bases on its territory.
This comes after New York Times in an article published on June 6 claimed that Burns had travelled to Pakistan for meetings with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hamid to explore the possibility of counterterrorism cooperation between the two sides.
The CIA is said to be looking for bases around Afghanistan from where it could gather intelligence on Afghanistan and execute counterterrorism strikes after the completion of troop withdrawal from there, the report said.
Although the exact date of the CIA director’s hours-long trip has not been disclosed by either side, it is believed to have taken place in late April.
The report said that discussions between Pakistan and the US on this issue over the past few weeks have taken place at multiple levels — between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser (NSA) Moeed Yusuf and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, General Bajwa and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and the army chief and the US charge d’affaires in US embassy in Islamabad.
Officials said the CIA chief wanted to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan, but was plainly told that only a counterpart meeting between heads of government of the two countries was possible.
The government’s insistence on a counterpart meeting also stems from its anger over the absence of engagement at the highest level since US President Joe Biden took office in January.
The officials further said the CIA chief was categorically conveyed that no US operation would be allowed from Pakistani territory. They rather suggested having asked the Americans to hand over the drones to them for carrying out the strikes against terrorist targets.
The other report said, quoting unnamed officials that the speculation about even the consideration of Pakistani air bases being permitted to the US is “absolutely wrong.” “The CIA never even came up with this suggestion,” they insisted.
The source explained that the US has two main concerns for which Washington needs Pakistan’s help. First, ensuring the safe withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Second, helping stakeholders in Afghanistan sign some sort of agreement so that Washington could tell the world that it is leaving Kabul in a triumphant manner. The US is more concerned about its reputation than anything else.
The source said that Pakistan’s Foreign Office has clearly stated that there is no such plan under consideration. He stressed that such a policy issue can only be decided by the policy-makers (government) and parliament.
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