Pakistani President Imran Khan told Axios in an interview due to be aired on Sunday that the CIA will “absolutely not” be allowed to operate from Pakistani soil after the US completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year.
The US’ loss is not for want of trying: CIA Director William Burns and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have both visited Pakistan in recent months to discuss continued cooperation. However, the Pakistani government, long close to the Taliban, against whom the US would most likely be operating, has rebuffed all attempts as a compromise.
Pakistan’s Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI) agency was Washington’s gateway to Afghanistan for decades before the US invasion in October 2001, providing an avenue by which the US could funnel financial and materiel support to Afghan tribesmen fighting the socialist Afghan government and its Soviet allies in the 1980s, including those that later became the Taliban, and then to groups resisting the Taliban government that came to power after the socialist government collapsed in 1996.
According to the New York Times, the US is once again searching for proxies in Afghanistan to support after the last US forces leave on September 11, apparently reflecting a belief that the Taliban, now out of power, won’t take peace talks seriously and that the US-backed Afghan government will quickly collapse in the face of a renewed Taliban offensive.
While the US and Taliban reached a peace deal in February 2020 for the US to end its 20-year occupation of the country and remove its remaining soldiers, a similar deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government has proven more elusive.
However, while Islamabad won’t cooperate with the US any longer, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has signaled that his administration might seek out their help in achieving stability without the US.
“Peace will primarily be decided upon regionally, and I believe we are at a crucial moment of rethinking. It is first and foremost a matter of getting Pakistan on board,” Ghani told Der Spiegel last month. “The US now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands.”