Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
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 :