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Saturday, July 9, 2011

US Drone Attacks, Taliban & Shamsi Air Base

US vacates Shamsi Airbase, Pak Army takes over

 The United States has finally vacated the Shamsi Airbase in the Washuk district of Balochistan after using it for numerous covert and overt ...
US wraps up drone operation business at Shamsi‎ The Nation, Pakistan
US leaving Shamsi base won't have big impact on air war‎ The Express Tribune
International News Network Xinhua 
all 2896 news articles »

USA has killed over 2000 people in FATA, through droned attacks, [flown from  Shamsi Air base], mostly civilians. Pak Taliban have killed over 30,000 innocent Muslims on pretext to avenge Drone attacks, they even attacked Naval Air Base at Karachi. Question arises that Why Taliban do not attack Shamsi Airbase in Pakistan? Its very simple, aim of Taliban is to kill Muslims and destabilise Pakistan, they are allegedly financed and aided by USA, India and other anti-Pak powers so; Why should they attack the  base of their benefactors?  
Quran:5:57  O ye who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport whether among those who received the Scripture before you or among those who reject faith; but fear ye Allah if ye have Faith (indeed).
Quran;3:28. Let not the believers make unbelievers their protectors rather than the believers; anyone who does so will have nothing to hope for from Allah - except if you do so as a precaution to guard yourselves against their tyranny. Anyhow, Allah warns you to fear Him: because with Allah is your final refuge. 
However normal friendly relations with peaceful Non Muslims are not forbidden :
“Allah only forbids you to make friendship with those who fought you on account of your faith and drove you out of your homes and backed up others in your expulsion. Those who will take them for friends are indeed the wrongdoers”. (Qur’an;60:9).

THE announcement of Defence Minister Chaudhary Ahmad Mukhtar that the United States has been asked to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan has widely been hailed by people of Pakistan, who consider it belated but still timely move as part of the efforts to restore national honour and dignity. According to him, Americans have started moving equipment and materials from the base, which had been leased to the UAE but was being used by the United States for logistic support for its forces in Afghanistan and carrying out highly provocative drone attacks in tribal areas of Pakistan. The decision is in line with unanimous resolution of the parliament that requires of the government to review its policy if the United States persists with its drone attacks. In contemptuous disregard to the demand contained in the resolution, which symbolised voice of the nation, Americans are not only continuing their drone attacks but also we have seen accentuation in the process. As Pakistan cannot, for obvious reasons, confront drones and shoot them down, the least it can do is to ask the United States to vacate the base that was being used as a nerve centre for drone attacks. In the first place, it is devoid of higher moral values and principles to have allowed a country use of our soil to facilitate attacks on the neighbouring country.
But the case of Shamsi is all the more striking as it was used to plan and execute drone attacks against Pakistan’s own people. What a tragedy that we have all along been lodging protests to the United States over drone attacks but behind-the-curtain allowed use of our own base for the purpose. Shamsi had become subject of a heated national debate and disgust with people considering it as a stigma for the country and therefore, the move of the Government to get it vacated is a welcome development. This is a futuristic decision aimed at safeguarding national interests and restoring national honour, which began with the arrest of killer Raymond Davis. But the entire process must be based on principles and should not convey the impression of a tit-for-tat approach i.e. in reaction to reduction and stoppage of aid by the United States as per its past practice of leaving Pakistan in the lurch.

An Other Opinion!

The disused Bhandari airstrip 200 miles south of Quetta in Balochistan was gifted to Sheikh Zahid Al-Nahyan the ruler of Abu Dhabi by the government of Pakistan in the 1990’s. The airstrip called Shamsi was developed by Emirates Sheiks into a jet capable airfield , and was used for falcon hunting of rare Bustards in Balochistan. It was leased out to US Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 by UAE with President Musharraf’s approval, and was developed by the United States Air Force as a military air base in great secrecy for bombing of Afghanistan. CIA occupation of the base clearly had his approval. General Pervez Musharraf as President should have comprehended the long time strategic implications of handing over Shamsi air base to Washington! Development of Shamsi for clandestine operations was kept a highly guarded secret, and Chief Minister Magsi and even Corps Commander were not allowed to visit it, when it was being developed for Drone operations and construction of the required infrastructure for this purpose was taking place. There is no evidence on record that the UAE government handed over Shamsi to the CIA for Drone operations. It was General Musharraf who handed over Shamsi and allowed US Air Force operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants from some other PAF bases including the Shahbaz Air Base. The PPP led government continued Musharraf’s policies till recently, and allowed CIA to launch Predator drones from Shamsi Air Base for the destruction of terrorist hideouts in FATA. Islamabad’s denials that the government was unaware of CIA drone operations from Shamsi till very recently, may be justified by being kept in the dark, by ally America, which has refused to share anti-terrorist intelligence with Pakistan.

The United States spent billions of dollars on the development of Shamsi air base. The USAF developed Bandari airstrip into a jet capable airfield with long runways for handling bombers and heavy transport aircraft. Shamsi has taxiways, tarmacs and refueling facilities for sustained bomber, fighter and drone operations. By 2006 Predator drones began to be launched against Taliban hideouts and selected targets in the tribal belt. Shamsi has remained a busy base for anti-terrorist operations in FATA. Few weeks back Washington Post reported that three months ago the US had stopped air and drone strikes from Shamsi base. This was soon after the Raymond Davis dispute exploded into a full-fledged fiasco. The Post reported that US-CIA personnel and the Predator drones remain at Shamsi Air Base till further decision. Recently Google Earth showed three predator drones parked on the Shamsi tarmac, next to a hangar.

During the last six years Predator drones launched from Shamsi Air Base killed hundreds of militants and in collateral damage greater number of civilian men women and children have been killed and injured. It is shocking that Pakistani soil is being used for launching American missiles for bombing Pakistani villages and homes in FATA and killing Pakistani citizens along with foreign militants. The drones cannot distinguish Pakistani citizens from Al-Qaeda terrorists. Thus drone attacks kill peaceful citizens along with the terrorists. According to some defence specialists the collateral damage in Pakistan is minimal as compared to Afghanistan. The Tehrik-Taliban- Pakistan and its godfather Al-Qaeda are engaged in suicide attacks across Pakistan including FATA and in Afghanistan. They bomb mosques, hotels, bazars, police stations, schools, military, Rangers, FC, CID and Navy installations. They kidnap and murder people and have killed 36000 Pakistani’s including 5000 military personnel. They are enemy number one of the Pakistani nation. Across the border in Afghanistan the terrorists target NATO, and Afghan National Army installations, hotels and shopping centers. It is unfortunate that thousands of Pakistani nationals have become terrorists and are sheltering foreign and local criminals in the tribal Agencies and elsewhere, with the motive to spread mayhem, death and destruction in their own country. Washington considers Predator attacks on their Hujras and villages justified with drone missiles to end the terrorist menace. Pakistani protests to pressure America to stop drone attacks to wipe out terrorism have a humanistic face, but are difficult to justify, considering terrorist massacres and destruction, and adverse effect on national morale. Hillary Rodham Clinton the US Secretary of State, Robert Gates the Defense Secretary and Director CIA Leon Panetta, who is the new US Defense Secretary have categorically rejected Pakistani pleas to stop drone attacks, asserting that the Pakistani establishment in the past had approved such attacks, which were being launched from Shamsi Air Base. The nation needs to be told the truth.

The nation must be told the truth about the gifting, leasing out or renting of the Shamsi Air Base to the UAE, the CIA and the United States Air Force. The terms and conditions must be known to remove the impression that the United States has forcibly usurped the Shamsi Base, and has plans for perpetual occupation of the strategically important Air Base.

A PAF officer who declined to be identified said, “ We have told them to vacate the Base. We are unable to provide security to their people”. In a tough response on June 30, US authorities responded, “ United States is rejecting demands from Pakistani officials that American personnel abandon the Shamsi Military Base used by the CIA to stage drone strikes against suspected militants. US Personnel have not left the remote military installation , and there is no plan for them to do so. The Base is neither vacated, nor being vacated. This blunt rejection of the Pakistani demand was confirmed by another senior US official. Having spent billions on the Base infrastructure, and being fully resolved to eradicate terrorist safe heavens in FATA, US drone operations from the Shamsi Air Base are likely to continue unabated. This will add fuel to the fire of the acrimonious Pak-US relationship over the intensified drone bombings and violation of Pakistani sovereignty by the Obama Administration.

Undeterred by blunt US response Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar claimed that, “ Shamsi Air Base is being shuttered, and drone operations from it had stopped.” This claim was rejected by the US disclaimer from Washington. But Ahmed Mukhtar told Reuters, “ When the US forces will not operate from there, no drone attacks will be carried.” This expectation was rudely rejected by US officials. But a crafty CIA official remarked that no American military personnel had ever been stationed at Shamsi Air Base. The drone program from in Pakistan (from the Shamsi Air Base) is run by the CIA.” CIA Director Leon Panetta, who has been promoted as US Defense Secretary, during his last visit to Islamabad was urged by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to bring an end to the drone attacks and devastation in FATA. Panetta bluntly rejected to halt drone attacks, and refused to assure the top Pakistani leaders that drone attacks could be halted.

In an incisive article Brig Farooq Hameed Khan comments about the strategic advantages that the United States drives from the occupation of Shamsi Air Base. “This airfield provides a launch pad 200 miles south of Quetta, where the US believes hides the Afghan Taliban Shura led by Mullah Omar. CIA believes that Mullah Omar is hiding in Quetta, much like Osama bin Laden lived undetected in Abbottabad. Shamsi Base is one hundred miles east of the Iranian border, and is ideally located for spying on Iran. It enables the United States to conduct spying and covert intelligence missions into and around Iran. Washington considers Tehran as its foremost foe, and will use Shamsi Base to gather vital intelligence information about Iran. And importantly it is not too far from Chagai-Pakistan’s nuclear test site. Being close to the Balochistan coast it enables the US to spy over Gwadar, and keep an eye on Pak-China collaboration for the development of this important sea port, and an important trading center in the future. Shamsi will enable CIA to gather data about Pakistan’s coastal areas, with several vital Pakistan Navy installations there. In the adjoining Arabian Sea the massive presence of US Navy’s aircraft carriers, missile firing cruisers, destroyers, submarines and landing craft provide evidence of massive sea power, menacing deployed posing a very serious threat to Pakistan’s security and sovereignty. 

As a first step, Pakistan could urge the US by diplomatic means, to share the Shamsi Air Base with Pakistan Air Force, for joint operations against terrorists. ISI may offer to cooperate with the CIA for sharing intelligence information about Taliban and Al-Qaeda fugitives. This is a difficult exercise, but we cannot and should not allow permanent occupation of a strategic Air Base by a foreign power. Shamsi Air Base is being used for launching drone attacks by the CIA. While Pakistan's sovereignty has been trampled underfoot, The collateral damage has killed hundreds of innocent civilians. This must stop.
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A new report from the Conflict Monitoring Centre (CMC) has reported that 2043 Pakistanis have been slain in CIA drone strikes in the past 5 years, with the vast majority of them innocent civilians. ...
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