Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Pakistan’s Shamsi base : a mystery wrapped in a riddle

July 3, 2011

Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad’s comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar’s remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.

Washington’s dismissal of the Pakistan government’s stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world’s strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ?  The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign  against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.

One possible reason Washington can get away with it is that the base may not belong to Pakistan. Ahmed said that Shamsi had been leased to the United Arab Emirates in 1992 and they had handed over operational control to the United States when it launched the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and eventually Pakistan.  Pakistan’s air force made the same disclosure during an in-camera hearing for parliament following the secret raid to kill Osama bin Laden in May, the Pakistani press reported at the time and again this week as controversy swirled over Mukhtar’s comment.

It raises troubling issues of sovereignty for Pakistanis as an editorial in The Daily Times noted :

The questions are many. What is the agreement regarding Shamsi air base? If the Pakistanis are in control of it, what need is there to `ask` the Americans to leave? If the Americans control it, under what laws and agreement have they been permitted to and who on the Pakistani side has signed off on it?

It is not the first time the issue of control of Shamsi has erupted in public. A 2005 U.S. diplomatic cable published by Dawn records the UAE government’s displeasure at leak of reports about its military cooperation with the United States inside Pakistan.  The cable from the U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi says that the UAE government had complained about  General Tommy Franks, former Commander of U.S. Central Command, writing  in his book, “”American Soldier”” that U.S. forces had made use of Sheikh Zayed’s private airstrip in Baluchistan, Pakistan.  The cable said :

UAEG desires to keep details of the UAE cooperation with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Pakistan confidential, because the Government is concerned that public acknowledgement of this assistance could pose risks to the UAE security within the UAE or to UAE officials in Pakistan.

It said members of the UAE ruling family frequently visited Pakistan for hunting expeditions and it was worried these revelations would endanger their safety.  The big question is what compulsions would drive a country such as Pakistan to hand over airstrips. And is it just Shamsi, or there are more national assets rented out ?


This is a country which can go to any length to get money…….Even the parliament could have been sold or the Military even to the US of A……..

Posted by PAK777 | Report as abusive

UAE elite has misused its financial clout in Pakistan and some believe responsible for contributing to instability in that country.

Gwadar port has not gone down well with some ‘sheikhs’ and fear a competitor to their oasis.

Posted by rush1 | Report as abusive

UAE elite has misused its financial clout in Pakistan and some believe responsible for contributing to instability in that country.

Gwadar port has not gone down well with some ‘sheikhs’ who fear a competitor to their oasis.

Posted by rush1 | Report as abusive

I’ve been saying for a while now… Pakistan has two faces.

Their true face, which is completely allied to the US despite an overwhelming opposition to this by the actual people of Pakistan.

And the false face, the tough talking, lying, pretending face that the government show their people to maintain legitimacy.

All tough talk and ignorance of US operations is merely what they are obliged to tell pakistanis to maintain an image of sovereignty.

So no, the US is not going to use their airbase despite the Pakistani government refusing to allow them. They have been allowed to use it.

The US government understands full well why Pakistani officials talk the way they do. It isn’t jst waziristan that is anti-US it’s the whole country.

Another thing reuters:

What ever happened to Bin Laden’s Family???
Have they been interrogated??
What is their side of the story?

Has Reuters tried to obtain this information?

Posted by brian-decree | Report as abusive

Goverments are for the people,track record in Pakistan does not indicate that.The country is under a severe electricy and law and order crisis.Revenue generation shortage due to lack of serious taxation reforms and implementation.

This is a country who’s rulers and establishment are detached from their people,following an agenda that is crumbling the state and its sovereignity.

Posted by rush1 | Report as abusive

“or there are more national assets rented out ?”

-Do you mean nukes umbrella to Saudi Arabia? maybe. Some Saudi Royal family members are known to have visited Pakistan’s Kahuta hub. Also, the question of shamsi airbase, as far back as 1960 the badaber airbase in Peshawar was given to US where Gary Powers took off on his U2 spy plane and the famous incident took place. So Pakistan Air Force must take charge and ownership, be more assertive. Maintaining friendly strategic ties with Gulf Arab states is one thing, but the country’s national assets must be under custodial control.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Yes, Pakistan has two faces and very dangerous one. It is not easy, when one recalls the murder of french engineers who were reported to be killed in Karachi, since the French Govt. did not pay the kick back money to the intermediaries who had negotiated the sale of boats to Pakistan. The disclosure of CIA bases is the one tool they can use when the USA refuses to move and move very fast. No space in Afghanistan or Pakistan is out of bound for the Resistance!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

If Pakistan was really determined to stop these operations it could have done so a long time ago. Pakistan has long mastered the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. We have been debating Pakistan’s drone drama for the last few years.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Wow Tommy Franks has a self-serving big mouth? I’m shocked. Shocked, I say. Zzzz…

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

We (the USA) do not want to be in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
However, the Islamic militants brought the war to us so we have no choice except to continue a war of extermination until they renounce their declaration of war against us. We will continue as long as we have to. We will defend ourselves until the last person. Who do you think will last longer?

Posted by lillian_g | Report as abusive

The current USA President is a man of peace and was therefore rewarded the nobel prize? Are the Americans going to vote for a mexican or atleast half mexican President to continue ts crudade against muslim countries with energy and money supplies from muslim countries as well? What a farce, USA aid to Pakistan an other muslim counties when the source of money is from the muslim countries. When are Saudis going to stop supplying oil to the USA until the old debts are not balanced. Both China and India are ready to make cash paymebts!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive


Saudis can get their weapons from Germany(lepard tanks) and Russia(aircrafts+) and China(stealth fighter bombers) and Pakistan (nuclear armed missiles)! Divorce from the declining power is now required, not simple protests and separation period.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Pakistan leased an airfield just like Cuba leased Qitmo. Too late to bitch about it now.

Posted by JBnID | Report as abusive

the situation needs a careful and detailed analysis… the Governments of USA and Pakistan could have different views about Shamsi air base, but the Pakistan’s position in International Community would become hopeless if USA does not pay heed to their Notice… on the other hand the USA government would be seen as weak if it is compelled to vacate in view of the nuclear capability of Pakistan..
a detailed analysis from Military and Diplomatic angle is the need of the hour.. moreover, Pakistan’s Army has a stake in this issue. it would be interesting to learn about their concerns also…
would u please oblige

Posted by catalyst | Report as abusive

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