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US says deal nearly done with Pakistan to use its airspace for operations in Afghanistan: CNN

23 Oct, 2021
The United States wants to use Pakistan airspace for operations in Afghanistan. Reuters
The United States wants to use Pakistan airspace for operations in Afghanistan. Reuters

The US government is close to formalizing an agreement with Pakistan for use of its airspace to conduct military operations in Afghanistan according to a story published by CNN on Friday.

The CNN story was quoting "three sources familiar with the details of a classified briefing with members of Congress that took place on Friday morning."

According to one of the sources, "Pakistan has expressed a desire to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in exchange for assistance with its own counterterrorism efforts and help in managing the relationship with India," they said.

Another source said the negotiations are ongoing, "and the terms of the agreement, which has not been finalized, could still change."

If true, this will be a major departure from Prime Minister Imran Khan's clear position that he will not allow the United States to use its airspace for any operations against any nation.

He famously used the phrase "absolutely not" when he was asked if Pakistan would grant its airspace in an interview to HBO in June this year.

But a story in the South China Morning Post in June this year said Pakistan had granted airspace to the Americans -- albeit before Khan's famed HBO comment.

"The reinstatement of a 20-year-old arrangement saw Pakistani airspace used by American warplanes on at least one occasion during the first week of May to bomb Taliban forces engaged in a major anti-government offensive in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, several renowned Pakistani journalists recently revealed on social media," wrote Tom Hussain in the Hong Kong-based paper.

But as CNN reported on Friday, currently the US military uses Pakistan's airspace to reach Afghanistan as part of ongoing intelligence-gathering efforts "but there is no formal agreement in place to ensure continued access to a critical piece of airspace necessary for the US to reach Afghanistan."

One of the sources told CNN that an agreement was discussed when US officials visited Pakistan, but it's not yet clear what Pakistan wants or how much the US would be willing to give in return.

CNN reached out to government organizations for its stories but defense officials said they could not comment on closed door meetings.

This story created ripples on social media in Pakistan with users saying the PTI government had made another U Turn.

Many have chosen a more direct approach in their messaging.

And others remind that there's always a price attached to choices.

But one journalist said this may add more context for the speculations about the tension between Pindi and Islamabad.