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US nearing deal with Pakistan on access to Afghanistan in exchange for help in 'managing relations with India'

Author: Chidanand Rajghatta / TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: October 23, 2021
URL:       https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/us-nearing-deal-with-pakistan-on-access-to-afghanistan-in-exchange-for-help-in-managing-relations-with-india/articleshow/87228482.cms

The Biden administration is nearing a formal agreement with Pakistan to use its airspace for military and intel ops in Afghanistan in exchange for US support for Pakistani counterterrorism missions and helping Islamabad "manage relations with India" according to a CNN report citing classified briefings to lawmakers.

Pakistan immediately denied the report saying there was no such understanding although it acknowledged that "Pakistan and the US have longstanding cooperation on regional security and counter-terrorism and the two sides remain engaged in regular consultations."

Islamabad often bends over backwards to submit to US leverage and pressure in return for financial support for its weak economy but publicly projects a defiant stand to forestall domestic criticism.

According to the CNN report, negotiations are still underway to finalize exact terms of the deal, which will allow the US to monitor Afghanistan and extract its remaining Afghan assets and the few US nationals stranded there.

Currently, the US, given its fractured ties with Islamabad, uses its bases in the Gulf, including in Qatar and UAE, to conduct over-the-horizon ops in Afghanistan. But distance puts a crimp on such missions.

Some experts wondered why the two sides would want to formalize such an agreement when they already had an informal deal on the matter.

Several US nationals and Afghan assets have been extricated via Pakistan after the Taliban takeover in Kabul in what appears to be case-by-case deals even though Pakistan has overseen the return to power of Taliban.

"One may argue such an accord would fly in the face of the relentless "absolutely not" messaging from Islamabad. But worth noting this would merely formalize something that's already happening: The airspace rights have been in place for quite some time," noted Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Wilson Center and an expert on US-Pak ties.

Pakistan has repeatedly sought Washington's intervention over its claims on Kashmir in exchange for providing access to landlocked Afghanistan, but the strategy has not worked so far given its weak economy and the internal threats it faces from extremists it is unable to control. Its continued grey-listing by global terror funding watchdog FATF dilutes the geographic leverage it seeks to exploit vis-a-vis Afghanistan.

Some Pakistani commentators have accused India of "trapping" Pakistan in FATF with US help.

As it usually happens when Pakistan is bereft and in a crisis, its leaders rushed off to seek comfort of its benefactors. This time its Prime Minister Imran Khan headed off to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, ostensibly to attend the Middle East Green Initiative Summit.
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