On 28 August 2022 when Afghan Defence Minister Mohd Yaqoob accused Pakistan of allowing its airspace for US drone operations against Afghanistan, it opened yet another chapter of the love-hate relationship between Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan.
And now comes this new dynamic of Pakistan being a proxy for US military operations in Afghanistan. When US exited Afghanistan and the Taliban regime took over on 15 August 2021, it was believed by many that the US interference in Afghanistan is over and for good.
Afghanistan over the years has suffered more from external aggressions than it has from internal conflicts. However, like many of US policies, their real agenda always takes time to uncover.
Its not new that many bases in Pakistan have been used by US military as logistic and launch bases including Pak Airforce Camp Badaber in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which was also a former CIA post, Pakistan Airforce Base Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Tarbela Ghazi Airbase also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shamsi Airfield in Balochistan which was leased by Abu Dhabi to Pakistan and then subleased to CIA, Pak Airforce Base Samungli also in Balochistan, Pak Airforce Base Shahbaz in Sindh, Pak Airforce Base Nur Khan in Punjab along with various airports.
But neither of them have been declared being operated openly till in July 2022 when there were speculations about a Pak / Kyrgyz airbase being used to launch an airstrike (in the name of a counter terrorist operation) in which two hell fire missiles were fired at Kabul killing Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri.
The Afghan government states that they are looking into the American claim of killing Zawahiri as they have been unsuccessful in finding the body of the Al Qaeda head. Although Afghan radar systems are believed to be destroyed in the US-Afghan conflicts of last year, Afghan leadership believes that the
strikes were carried out from Manas Airbase (Ganci) in Kyrgyzstan and followed the Pak airspace to enter Afghanistan. This is not the first incident when Pakistani air space was being utilised by US.
Manas Airbase near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a former US military installation used extensively in 2001’s Great War on Terrorism. It is approximately 1000 Kms from Kabul and has flight trajectory of approximately 2 hrs.
Hell fire missiles believed to be fired on Kabul are AGM 114 R9X missiles fired by a MQ9 reaper. They are air to ground missiles developed for precision strikes. It weighs 45 Kgs with an operational range of 0.5 Km to 11 Kms. It has a semi-active laser homing guidance system along with a millimetre wave radar seeker. It can be launched from rotary and fixed wing aircraft, UAVs, tripods, ships and even ground vehicles.
MQ9 Reaper has a range of 1900 Km with a ceiling height of 15.24 Km & can stay in air for several days. A reapers can perform missions like surveillance and reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue and precision air strikes.
US president Joe Biden on 01 August 2022 had given a statement that ‘On my direction, the US successfully carried out an air strike in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed the leader of Al Qaeda – Ayman Al Zawahiri’
Pakistan a country which is dealing with extreme economic crisis and already battling their loyalty rewards with both China and USA is actually not in a position to put their tourism, trade and world image at stake by creating chaos in Afghanistan and facing a rebuttal.
This is especially when TTP – Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan is already becoming a stress for Imran Khan government and may become the reason for excessive disharmony between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on 29 August 2022 clarified that the allegations by Afghanistan were baseless.
Whether Pakistan admits that it is assisting US in still maintaining a hold over Afghanistan after the much show of exit or not, the coming months of US assistance in Pakistan are likely to improve as a thank you measure with support from IMF too.
The real question remains, will Pakistan become a mere pawn in America’s game of orchestrating a movement to remove Imran Khan’s government even at the cost of its love for Afghanistan or will the top brass of Pakistan know better ?