Has China Blocked US’ Move To Set Up A Military Base In Pakistan?

The US’ search for a military base outside Afghanistan seems to have hit a wall, again.

The EurAsian Times earlier reported on how the US is exploring options in stationing some of its troops in Central Asia or Pakistan post-withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan had then clarified that it would not permit any foreign military bases on its soil.

However, the recent unannounced visit to Islamabad by William J. Burns, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director, and the frequent calls between US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin and the Pakistani military chief suggested that the deal was on the table.

Now, some officials involved in negotiations with Pakistan suggest that “the talks have reached an impasse for now”, according to a New York Times report.  

Pakistan has informed the United States that it cannot offer military bases to the country as Islamabad needs to look after its own interests, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Monday. Qureshi was presenting Pakistan’s official position in response to the New York Times report.

US Military Bases

In the first decade of the 21st century, during their operations in Afghanistan, the US had maintained bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. While it withdrew from the Central Asian region on fierce opposition from Russia and China, it was kicked out of Pakistan on dwindling ties after 2011.

Amid the ongoing discussions between the CIA and Pakistani officials, the latter put up unwavering demands in exchange for stationing US military personnel on their soil. One of the conditions put forward by Pakistan is a mandatory “sign off on any targets that either the CIA or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan”.

One of the primary reasons why the US has been shifting away from the possibility of renewing its bases in Central Asia is due to the considerable amount of influence that Russia holds over erstwhile-Soviet states.

US Air Force (USAF) Major (MAJ) Darrell Small, 48th Combat Support Hospital, Bagram Air Base (AB),
File Image: US Air Force (USAF) – Wikipedia

The lack of mutual trust between the two Cold War superpowers has forced Washington to explore other options including Pakistan that shares a border with Afghanistan.

China-Pakistan — ‘Iron Brothers’ 

Pakistan enjoys a close and special relationship with China. Beijing has already invested close to $62 billion since 2013 on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s dream project Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Several reports highlight that Pakistan is planning to sell some stakes of the state-owned Pakistan Railways (PR), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). China has emerged as one of the biggest investors in Pakistan whose economy is gasping for breath.

Despite baling out Pakistan on multiple occasions and showcasing strategic support, China faces local resistance in regions such as Balochistan where people despise the “Chinese neocolonial tendencies”.

Local businesses are distressed over a competitive advantage that Chinese industries have and question their tax-evading habits.

The Chinese have made inroads into the tribal and minority land of Balochistan through which the CPEC passes. China’s Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC) runs a copper mine through the mineral-rich province.

The development of Gwadar port is another point of contention amongst the locals while it provides a strategic advantage to China in terms of trade and security.

China-US Rivalry 

China’s economic investments come with a hidden motive of making strategic gains. Analysts have often chided China’s “debt diplomacy” approach in encroaching upon critical chokepoints in the developing world.

Amid an established Chinese presence in Pakistan, it will be interesting to note how Islamabad balances out with a US military base provided the South Asian country gets a favorable response from the CIA.

The authorities might be hopeful of reviving the Cold War era triple entente between the three states, however, the present circumstances seem unfavorable towards US-China rapprochement.

An expert speaking to EurAsian Times earlier noted that “the only reason Washington could get interested in Pakistan is to check on the Chinese (besides keeping a tab on Afghanistan) but it is highly unlikely that Beijing would approve that move”.

Written By Apoorva Jain