Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) on Saturday denied 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.
In its report, CNN 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 CNN report said 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 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 Pakistan Foreign Office issued a statement. "No such understanding was in place," the FO spokesperson said.
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".
According to CNN, the US military currently 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.
The air corridor through Pakistan to Afghanistan may become even more critical if and when the US resumes flights into Kabul to fly out American citizens and others who remain in the country.
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, the CNN said adding:
With no formal agreement currently in place, the US runs the risk of Pakistan refusing entry to US military aircraft and drones en route to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are emerging as the top options for possible locations to establish a US military presence to conduct so-called over-the-horizon operations in Afghanistan but both would run into severe opposition from Russian President Vladimir Putin and some local politicians, CNN said.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Uzbekistan earlier this month where she discussed "the way forward in Afghanistan" with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Currently, the US conducts its over-the-horizon operations from bases in the Middle East, forcing drones to fly from distant bases, such as those in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, around Iran and through Pakistani air space before reaching Afghanistan. The lengthy flight limits the time drones can loiter over Afghanistan gathering intelligence, and the Biden administration has been looking for closer, more effective options, CNN concluded.
Putin says Russia mulling removing Taliban from terrorist list
In other developments on Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is considering removing the Taliban from its list of terrorist organizations as it expands engagement with the new rulers in Kabul.
The comments during a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club on October 21 come a day after Russia hosted a high-level Taliban delegation for talks attended by officials from China, Pakistan, and eight other countries.
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