SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)
Pakistan has ‘tacitly’ endorsed the long delayed bilateral security agreement (BSA) signed between Afghanistan and the United States in what appears to be a clear departure from its earlier stance that long-term presence of foreign forces in its backyard could have far-reaching implications for the region.
In background discussions, security and Foreign Office officials said that the BSA, which would allow 12,000 foreign military personnel to stay back in Afghanistan beyond 2014, would help prevent Afghanistan from slipping into civil war.
Pakistan’s apparent support for the security pact is seen as a ‘paradigm shift’ in its Afghan policy. In the past, Islamabad was believed to have been lobbying against a long-term US presence in Afghanistan.
Asked to comment on the deal, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that Pakistan would continue to facilitate and support any move which helped stabilise Afghanistan. “Afghanistan is a sovereign country and an elected government there is well within its right to sign such agreements,” she added.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz also welcomed the US-Afghan deal, saying that “it would provide a protective shield to Afghan security forces”. Additionally, the Afghan forces would get the badly needed defence and economic resources, he added.
The BSA and a separate pact signed with Nato allow the continued training and advising of Afghan security forces, as well as counterterrorism operations against remnants of al Qaeda.
A senior Obama administration official explained that the BSA had two critical missions post-214: targeting the remnants of al Qaida, and tanning, advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces. The reference to remnants of al Qaeda appears to indicate that the US may continue its drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas beyond 2014.
Although, US officials insisted that the provisions related to counterterrorism operations were only related to operations within Afghanistan, some security experts in Pakistan suggested otherwise.
“It’s [BSA] continuation of status quo,” commented Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan. He argued that Pakistan would continue to face the ‘blowback’ of US military’s presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 in the form of drone strikes.
He also claimed that contrary to US claims nearly 25,000 American troops would remain stationed in Afghanistan even after the final withdrawal of foreign forces by the end of this year.
“Apart from 10,000 troops, 6,000 would stay there for the security of the US Embassy in Kabul. Also at least half of 30,000 contractors would comprise American troops,” insisted the former diplomat, who is closely watching developments unfolding in the war-ravaged country.
A security official said the United States had been in contact with Pakistan over its plans to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan for the long term. “Primary objective of the US long-term presence is to make sure that gains of over a decade-long war must not be reversed,” the official said requesting anonymity.
The official said Pakistan was also of the view that the US must not leave Afghanistan ‘high and dry’ as it did in 1989.
However, another official pointed out that log-term presence of US troops in Afghanistan could have negative fallout for Pakistan in view of the increased cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.
US Ambassador Richard Olson on Wednesday met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and reportedly assured him that the BSA would not hurt Pakistan’s interests.
But an official statement issued here by the Prime Minister Office did not make any reference to the subject. “Matters of common interest came under discussion during the meeting,” it said.