No ‘understanding’ with US to ‘use Pakistani airspace’, says MOFA

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office has rejected a CNN report of an agreement regarding the use of Pakistan’s airspace by the US to conduct military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan.

Responding to the queries of the media persons through a statement on Saturday, Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar categorically stated that no such understanding is in place.

He, however, said Pakistan and the United States have long-standing cooperation on regional security and counterterrorism and the two sides remain engaged in regular consultations.

Earlier, a report by CNN said the US is nearing a formalised agreement with Pakistan which would allow Washington to use Pakistani airspace to conduct military and intelligence operations against Afghanistan.

The report, citing three sources familiar with the details of a classified briefing held by US President Joe Biden with members of Congress, said Pakistan had expressed the desire to sign an MoU with the US government over the matter. Islamabad, in exchange, wants assistance with its own counterterrorism efforts and help in managing the relationship with India, said a source.

However, nothing is final yet as talks between the two countries are still going on and the terms of the agreement can change, the report quoted a source as saying.

The US, for the first time in two decades, does not have a military presence in Afghanistan as its troops pulled out of the country on August 31. After two decades of conflict in Afghanistan, the US withdrawal from the country was criticised by several countries as a hasty one.

“The US military currently uses Pakistan’s airspace to reach Afghanistan as part of ongoing intelligence-gathering efforts, but there is no formal agreement in place to ensure continued access to a critical piece of airspace necessary for the US to reach Afghanistan,” reads a part of the CNN report.

The report said that the Pakistani airspace will become even more critical for the US if and when it decides to fly out Americans from Afghanistan in future.

A third source told CNN that the airspace deal was discussed between the two when US officials recently visited Pakistan. However, the source said, “it’s not yet clear what Pakistan wants or how much the US would be willing to give in return.”

A Pentagon spokesperson, when contacted by CNN, refused to comment on closed briefings.

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan ‘long shot’ options for US military bases

The sources confirmed that central Asian states Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are emerging as the “top options” for possible countries where the US military can conduct over-the-horizon operations in Afghanistan. However, complications could result in the form of strong opposition by Russian President Vladimir Putin and local politicians, with one source referring to the options as “likely pipe dreams due to needing Putin’s blessing.”

Currently, the US holds over-the-horizon operations from its bases in Middle East countries such as the UAE and Qatar. American drones fly from far-off bases into Afghanistan, travelling around Iran and through the Pakistani airspace. “The lengthy flight limits the time drones can loiter over Afghanistan gathering intelligence, and the Biden administration has been looking for closer, more effective options,” reads the report.

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