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Pakistan will "absolutely not" allow the CIA to use bases on its soil for cross-border counterterrorism missions after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan tells "Axios on HBO" in a wide-ranging interview airing Sunday at 6pm ET.

Why it matters: The quality of counterterrorism and intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan is a critical question facing the Biden administration as U.S. forces move closer to total withdrawal by Sept. 11.

  • The Biden administration also is exploring options in Central Asia to maintain intelligence on terrorist networks inside Afghanistan, but that is complicated for a different reason: Those countries are in Vladimir Putin's sphere of influence.

Where it stands: Despite an uneasy relationship with Pakistan, whose military has deep ties to the Taliban, the U.S. has conducted hundreds of drone strikes and cross-border counterterrorism operations from Pakistani soil.

  • But Khan, who was elected in 2018, was unequivocal: Pakistan will not allow the CIA or U.S. special forces to base themselves inside his country ever again, he told Axios.

Between the lines: Khan has long opposed Pakistan cooperating with the U.S. war on terror, but the reality is that he also has no choice but to say this publicly.

  • Close observers say it would be political suicide for Khan to embrace the presence of the CIA or special forces on Pakistani soil.
  • American officials privately are still hopeful they can come to a covert arrangement with Pakistan's powerful military and intelligence services.

CIA Director William Burns did not meet with Khan when he made an unannounced trip to Islamabad recently to meet with the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, amid questions about how the CIA will adapt after two decades of intelligence and paramilitary operations in Afghanistan.

  • Earlier this month, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has had "constructive discussions" with Pakistan about ensuring Afghanistan will never again become a base from which terrorist groups can attack the U.S., but he declined to go into specifics.

What's next: Burns has warned of the "significant risk" of al-Qaeda and ISIS regrouping in Afghanistan. "When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish," he testified in April. "That is simply a fact."

  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress this week that it will take militant groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS possibly two years to develop the capability to strike the U.S. homeland.

The bottom line: That risk will only increase if the Afghan government collapses and the country falls into a civil war, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley testified.

  • Getting Pakistan on board with the peace process will be the pivotal factor, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last month in an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel: "The U.S. now plays only a minor role. The question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands."

Go deeper

Sep 21, 2021 - World

Reports: CIA director's team member reported Havana syndrome symptoms

CIA director Bill Burns testifies at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in April. Photo: Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

A member of CIA director Bill Burns' team who traveled with him to India this month was treated for "symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome," CNN first reported Monday.

Why it matters: Current and former officials told the New York Times the incident signals a "possible escalation" in the mysterious neurological symptoms affecting as many as 200 Americans who've worked in overseas posts since 2016.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."