Pakistan allows space to US! ISIS may attack: Dick, Kahl

WASHINGTON: US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl has

informed Congress that Pakistan continues to give the United States access to its airspace and the two sides are also talking about keeping that access open.  CNN has already given this news which was denied by Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad.

Dr. Colin Kahl shared this information with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday during an open/closed hearing on “Security in Afghanistan and in the regions of South and Central Asia”.

US drone plane

He was replying to a question from the committee’s chairman Senator Jack Reed, who asked him to update the panel on “our arrangement with Pakistan regarding their cooperation with us in counterterrorism”. The senator referred to recent press reports claiming that Pakistan was working with the Taliban to attack the militant Islamic State group.

“Pakistan is a challenging actor, but they don’t want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist attacks, external attacks, not just against Pakistan but against others” as well, Dr Kahl told the open session. “They cotinue to give us access to Pakistani airspace and we are in conversation about keeping that access open.”

ISIS-K may attack

Dick Trenchard, Afghanistan country director for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

According to a report by Financial Times, London, the US intelligence agencies have warned that Islamist extremists (ISIS-K) operating in Afghanistan could attack America within six months as the country suffers what the UN has called “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis”. The twin crises of widespread hunger and growing terror threats reflects the rapid deterioration of conditions in Afghanistan since the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s western-backed government and the takeover by the Taliban in August. “Every Afghan man, woman and child knows there is a really deep crisis unfolding,” said Dick Trenchard, Afghanistan country director for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “We haven’t seen the worst of it yet.” The UN and international aid agencies estimate that about 19m Afghans are enduring an acute hunger crisis, which means they are unable to access sufficient food each day, owing to a drought and the implosion of the aid-dependent economy. An additional 13m Afghans are struggling to secure sufficient food, with the situation expected to deteriorate during the winter. The UN said about 3.5m children under the age of five were at a high risk of starvation unless aid is scaled up dramatically. “The trajectory is still deeply down,” Trenchard said. “We’ve never seen a crisis that has escalated downwards so quickly. The speed of the collapse — as well as the scale — has been so alarming.” US officials meanwhile are increasingly worried that Islamist terror groups that had used Afghanistan as a base before the US-led 2001 invasion were regrouping, despite a Taliban pledge that it would not allow the country to be used as a springboard for jihadi groups. The Taliban itself has been targeted in attacks by the rival Isis-K, a local, Isis-inspired militant group, which considers the new government as sell-outs to the global Islamist cause and is eager to prevent their consolidation of power.

On Tuesday, a senior Pentagon official warned that US intelligence officials believed that Isis-K would have the “capability” to conduct external strikes, including on American soil, within “six or 12 months”. The official added that it would take al-Qaeda between one or two years to reach a similar culpability to do the same. “We have to remain vigilant against that possibility,” Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defence for policy, told the Senate armed services committee. In Afghanistan, the UN said it was rushing to increase stocks of food and medicines before winter snow make the delivery of aid even more difficult. “There is no Plan B,” Trenchard said. “We need a massive increase in humanitarian resources to carry Afghans through the winter into next year.” Although international governments pledged at an emergency conference in September to provide about $1bn in emergency food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid for Afghan’s 38m people, just a fraction of that has been received by the UN, which is leading the relief effort. Afghanistan was already facing its worst drought in 35 years — its second severe drought in three years — before the Taliban rolled into Kabul. The change in government led to an abrupt end to the international development support that had helped keep the economy afloat.

Pak Foreign Office denies report

It may be recalled that the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) on Saturday issued a statement on a CNN report claiming that a formal agreement for the use of Pakistan’s airspace by the United States to conduct military strikes in Afghanistan was close, clarifying that there was “no such understanding” between the two countries.

US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl

CNN, in its report, cited three “sources familiar with the details of a classified briefing” to the US Congress, and said that the Biden administration has informed US lawmakers that the country was close to striking a formal deal with Pakistan for the use of its airspace to conduct operations in Afghanistan.

The report claimed that Pakistan had “expressed a desire” to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in return for help in its own counterterrorism operations and assistance with managing the relationship with India.

The report said that according to a source, the negotiations were still underway and the details of the agreement, which have not yet been hammered out, were still subject to change.

Hours after the CNN report was published, the FO issued a statement.

“No such understanding was in place,” the FO spokesperson said in response to queries about whether the country’s airspace would be used to conduct military and intelligence operations in the neighbouring country.

The spokesperson, however, stressed that Pakistan and the US had “longstanding cooperation” on issues of regional security and counter-terrorism and “the two sides remain engaged in regular consultations”.

Pakistan will ‘absolutely not’

allow bases to US: Imran Khan

In June in an interview with Axios on HBO, Prime Minister Imran Khan had categorically said that Pakistan would “absolutely not” allow any bases and use of its territory to the US for any sort of action inside Afghanistan — his clear-cut response surprising the interviewer.

“Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties, more than any other country by joining the American war. We cannot afford any more military actions from our territory. We will be partners in peace, not in conflict,” the prime minister had said.

Asked whether Pakistan would allow the US Air Force to use its airspace for airstrikes against the Taliban, the premier had reiterated that Pakistan “would not be a part of any conflict”. When pushed for an answer, he had replied that it had not been discussed. “Why would the Americans bomb Afghanistan when it hasn’t worked for 20 years?”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in May had also ruled out the possibility of providing military bases to the US for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.

He had rejected as unfounded the reports to this effect and made it clear that the government would never provide military bases to the US, nor would allow drone attacks inside Pakistan.