Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed has reaffirmed Islamabad’s firm opposition to allowing the United States access to its airbases amid the hasty withdrawal of American forces from neighboring Afghanistan.
"Pakistan aspires for peace in Afghanistan," Rasheed said on Sunday during a press conference held in the major city of Rawalpindi, insisting that the government and opposition parties stood on the same page regarding the issue, local Geo TV network reported.
"No superpower can ignore Pakistan [...] there is no pressure on us," the minister further emphasized, reiterating that Islamabad would not provide bases to any country for carrying out operations in Afghanistan.
"It is important, not only for Pakistan, but the entire region to initiate talks with the Afghan Taliban," Rasheed also noted while underlining that his country would accept any government that has the backing of the Afghan people.
Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted earlier this month that Islamabad would never again partner with the US in war, pointing out that his country had also suffered so much as a result of America's so-called war on terror in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan could be partners with the United States in peace but never in conflict,” Khan said during the National Assembly’s budget session on July 1 as he questioned the previous administration’s decision to join the US war in Afghanistan.
“When we gave so many services, did they (the Americans) praise us or acknowledge our sacrifices? Instead, they called us a hypocrite and blamed us. Instead of appreciating us, Pakistan was bad-mouthed,” Khan underlined.
The US was defeated in Afghanistan and tried to shift the blame of its defeat on Pakistan, the premier said, noting that Islamabad had sacrificed 70,000 people and wasted $150 billion in the so-called war against terror.
According to GEO TV, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also declared in a press briefing earlier this month that the country would not give the US access to its airbases if the government stands against it. He made the remarks after attending a military and intelligence briefing to parliamentarians on national security and the Afghanistan situation.
Also last month, Khan stressed in an op-ed column written for prominent US daily The Washington Post that Pakistan can no longer afford to make a mistake by hosting another US military base purportedly to be used for attacks against militants in Afghanistan.
Pakistan “has suffered so much from the wars in Afghanistan” and learned many lessons from its previous mistakes, he wrote. “In order to avoid further conflict, US bases will withdraw from Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan is ready to be a partner for peace in Afghanistan with the United States.”
Khan’s strong stance against hosting a US base in Pakistan came after US assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific affairs, David Helvey, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Islamabad would allow the US military to use its territory again.
“Pakistan had always allowed overflights and ground access to the US to facilitate its military presence in Afghanistan and would continue to do so,” Helvey claimed.
The remarks came amid reports that Washington is considering options to keep a foothold in the region, and there has been widespread speculation that Pakistan may allow the US to use its soil for operations after a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.