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Who Really Controls Shahbaz Air Base?

Posted by yourpakistan on August 20, 2010


  • Both US And PAF Are Responsible For Flood Relief Hurdles
  • Aid workers confirm they can’t reach half a million victims due to a US-related security cordon
  • Jacobabad cut off from the rest of the country

Pakistan Air Force arranged a hurriedly organized media tour yesterday to prove that the base is not under US control. But this does not appear to be the whole truth. Over the past eight years, PAF offered and withdrew different types of facilities to US military at the base. The Americans used the base mostly for logistical purposes and not to stage direct attacks against targets in Afghanistan or inside Pakistan’s northwestern region. But there were times when the number of US personnel at the base crossed 200, including special-forces operatives. According GlobalSecurity.org, Pakistani newspaper Daily Times claimed on 10 March 2004 that the airbase was under US control, “with an inner ring of facilities off-limits to Pakistan’s military,” according to the paper. But in August 2010, there is credible information that new special residential barracks for US personnel have been constructed. Unfortunately, Pakistan has accepted to house US personnel who will ensure the country’s doesn’t ‘misuse’ the new F-16s. So despite PAF’s – and US Embassy’s – sharp reaction, it is clear there is some merit to the statement of Federal Health Secretary Kamran Lashari that US presence at the base is preventing using the base for flood relief operations. Another related issue is the level of Pakistani involvement in CIA drone attacks inside Pakistan that have killed a huge number of innocent Pakistanis and turned Pakistani citizens against their country. [PakNationalists.com]

The floods have not only shown the ineptitude of the Pakistan government but also the confusion that prevails within government institutions. On Wednesday the Federal Health Secretary informed a Senate Panel that Jacobabad air base was under the US control so health relief operations could not be provided.

On Thursday, the PAF through APP issued a strange press release stating that “certain sections of the print and electronic media have wrongly reported that the PAF Base Shahbaz (Jacobabad) is under the control of the US. This has been spread by uninformed people”. So was the PAF referring to Federal Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari as “uninformed? After all, it was he who gave out the information about the Base being under the US control and to a Senate Panel.

While the PAF stated that Shahbaz Base was under complete command and control of the PAF and was being used extensively for providing relief and medical care to the affected people of the area, the US embassy had already issued another interesting response to the Khshnood Lashari’s claim. On Thursday, the US press note issued from Embassy of US in Islamabad stated that Shahbaz Air Base in Jacobabad is a Pakistan Air Force Base and is commanded and operated by PAF forces. The base is home to Pakistan’s newest F-16 Block 52s, which arrived this summer. PAF personnel maintain high security standards there to ensure that the technologically advanced aircraft can be securely maintained and operated from the base. On August 18, at the request of the Pakistan government, US Air Force C-130 aircraft flew to Shahbaz Air Base from the Pakistan Air Force Base in Rawalpindi bringing urgently needed relief supplies for Jacobabad.

What was left unsaid was that it was the PAF that was denying all manner of access to the airbase because of the presence of US personnel who had come along with the Block 52 F-16s, which were delivered at this base and had US conditions attached to the delivery of the planes, including the presence of US personnel to “keep an eye” on how the planes were used by the PAF. While the PAF was responsible for the security of the base, it was the pressure from the US on security grounds that was preventing access to the base-even for Pakistanis who had been involved in carrying out building work at Shahbaz.

So, it appears that both the US military and the PAF together are responsible for the relief work hurdles as news from the ground shows that the hurdles are very much there. Hopes are fading away to provide food and clean drinking water to 500,000 to 700,000 people who have been displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore Ghouspur and Karumpur (currently camping in Dera Allah Yar) as Jacobabad was still no-go area for choppers or C-130 due to security concerns to the American personnel deployed at the Jacobabad air base, well-informed sources told TheNation on Thursday. Organisers of national and international NGOs told TheNation on condition of anonymity, when contacted on telephone, that they could not reach Jacobabad to provide food and drinking water to as many as 500,000 to 700,000 flood victims due to strict security conditions adopted for Shahbaz Air Base. Although Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman has ordered PAF to form an air bridge of relief supply for Jacobabad which has been cut off from the rest of the country and make operational an airfield near Sibi for immediate supply of relief goods to flood-hit areas in the vicinity, however, Jacobabad is still the only location in Pakistan where rescue choppers of PAF have no access to carry out relief operations.

The sources told this scribe that foreign health teams could not start their relief operations in remote areas because there are not airstrips close to several areas, including Jacobabad.

The town has been evacuated and 500,000 to 700,000 people have been affected. The people displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghouspur and Karumpur are camping in Dera Allah Yar.

Earlier, it was reported that Shahbaz Air Base was under control of American personnel who were guarding the air base while monitoring the operations of F-16s against militants and extremists in FATA and Waziristan. As one seeks to discover the reality on the ground, the flood-stricken people of this devastated area of Sindh continue to suffer.

Report published by TheNation. Newspaper’s rights are reserved.

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