Foreign powers aiding rebels in Balochistan
06 September, 2011
By Asif Haroon Raja
Shamsi airbase near Kharan in turbulent Balochistan was in news for sometime but Karachi situation deflected the attention. Reportedly Shamsi base was built by Arab sheikhs in 1990s for Falcon shooting. Similar sites had been taken on lease in deserts of Bahawalpur region for sand grouse shooting. The base under the use of US air force since September 2001 was taken over by CIA in 2004. It was renovated and expanded by building hangers and expanding infrastructure.
It was learnt at a later date that Gen Musharraf in his desperation to enter into good books of George W Bush had allowed the US military to use Pakistan’s four air bases in Balochistan at Jacobabad, Mirani, Shamsi and Dalbaldin to carryout air strikes in Afghanistan under Taliban from 7 October 2001 onwards. Use of airbases continued even after ouster of Taliban regime and capture of Afghanistan in December. CIA has made good use of Shamsi base to foment insurgency in Balochistan, and to monitor progress of terrorist activities of BLA, BLF, BRA and Lashkar-e-Balochistan. CIA together with MI-6 and RAW had helped the rebels in establishing about 60 training camps in interior Balochistan in 2005 and hideout for late Akbar Bugti.
Shamsi base was occupied by CIA because of its geo-strategic location. It is very close to Chaghai where Pakistan carried out nuclear tests in May 1998; Iran’s eastern border is only 100 miles away and with Blackhawk helicopters, CIA can carryout stealth flights close to the border. In addition, it could coordinate cross border terrorism in Iran’s Sistan province using Jundullah group and own agents based in Balochistan. Afghanistan’s southern border is only 100 miles away and cross border movement could be kept under close watch. Quetta region can also be monitored to trace out alleged presence of Afghan Shura. Besides, Mekran Coast which stretches from Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea in south is within its proximity to oversee Chinese activities in Gwadar Port and Indian Ocean. Shamsi and Mirani bases can facilitate naval amphibious landing whenever undertaken. Huge energy and mineral resources of Balochistan are also of great interest to USA. Since CIA draws too many advantages by keeping this base occupied, hence it is reluctant to vacate it.
News about leasing of Shamsi base to UAE came to light during the in-camera joint parliament session on 13 May 2011 in which the PAF deputy chief informed the House that the said base was not in control of the PAF. Harking back into history of 1960s, one may recall that Badaber airbase was quietly handed over to US air force by Gen Ayub Khan in 1958 and the base was secretly used for launching U-2 flights to spy on USSR. When Khrushchev marked Peshawar with red circle and threatened to destroy it, the base was hurriedly closed and was got vacated in July 1970 after the US failed to get the 10-year lease agreement extended.
At a later date in 2009, it was learnt that CIA was using Shamsi base to launch drone strikes in FATA. The government remained in denial mode even when Wikileaks and the US officials disclosed that drones were used under express permission of Pak government. It also came to light that the CIA had employed Blackwater elements in Shamsi base for loading and unloading of Hellfire missiles in drone launchers.
It is now to be ascertained as to what were the terms of agreement and the period for which Shamsi base had been leased, and accordingly a plan made to get it vacated the soonest. It is also to be determined whether UAE can sublet the base to another country? Reportedly, land supplies to Shamsi have been stopped, but more pro-active actions will be required to force CIA to quit at the earliest. Blackwater elements have been withdrawn and its usage has been blocked but it is not clear whether it has been formally taken over by PAF. It is widely believed that Mehran Naval Base terrorist attack on 22 May was CIA-RAW sponsored to denude Pak Navy of surveillance capability along the coastal belt particularly Balochistan where their covert acts could be monitored by P-3C Orion aircraft.
Gwadar Port along Mekran Coast provides ideal exit point to the envisaged energy corridor from Central Asia. The US has been striving to gain control over Gwadar Port and to keep China away which had provided funds and technical assistance to make this project come on ground. Several Chinese working on Gwadar project were kidnapped and some killed so as to scare them away. Had Musharraf’s regime not handed over operation of the port to Singapore Company on the advice of USA, it would have been fully functional by now. Wasted time and effort can still be recouped if China is handed over full charge.
Use of drones by CIA was permitted by Musharraf to launch surveillance missions and find out about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives hiding inside Pakistan. However, CIA broke this agreement when it launched a hellfire missile to kill Nek Muhammad in South Waziristan in 2004 and later on used it offensively in Bajaur in 2006 twice. It was believed that drones were being employed by CIA from Afghanistan. People of Pakistan came to know at a much later that all drone attacks were launched against targets in FATA from Shamsi airbase with the connivance of the government.
Under mounting pressure of the public, the top civilian leadership started making statements that drones being counter productive should be stopped. Two joint resolutions were also passed by the parliament. However, since the leaders spoke without conviction and sincerity, it made no impact on USA. Obama administration declared drone as a choice weapon and drone war continued. In the aftermath of Raymond Davis affair in January and Abbottabad sting operation in May this year which soured Pak-US relations, the Army and ISI undertook remedial measures to curtail American overbearing presence in Pakistan.
The US is however not reconciling to restrictions and is also continuing to use Predators with impunity on suspicion that Al-Qaeda leadership and Haqqani network are based in NW. In its desire to expand the operating radius of drones, the US sought official clearance to carryout covert drone strikes in Pashtun dominated Balochistan after circulating a made-up story that Mullah Omar with his Shura as well as Ayman al-Zawahiri were hiding in Balochistan. Pakistan is being pressed to allow establishment of American Consulate in Quetta and posting of liaison officer to HQ 12 Corps to help monitor activities of runaway Taliban and al-Qaeda hiding in Pashtun inhabited southwestern Balochistan.
Ironically, the US is least concerned about anti-Pakistan groups operating in Balochistan who are not only aspiring for independent Balochistan and involved in high scale terrorism, but are also inviting foreign powers and the UN to intervene and help them in achieving their objective. None of the Baloch terrorist groups banned by Pakistan has been put in the category of terrorism. Permission for use of drones is sought not for employment against them but against peaceful Pashtuns residing in southwestern Balochistan with ill-motives.
The US is constantly pressurizing Pakistan to do more but ignores Pakistan’s complaints against deep involvement of RAW in Balochistan using Afghan soil. Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan are confirmed sanctuaries of all runaway militants from Swat and Malakand Division and are involved in frequent cross border attacks on Pakistani security check posts in Dir, Mohmand, Bajaur and Chitral, but the US takes no action because militants are patronized by Afghan warlords and foreign agencies.
Now that Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has disclosed startling news that MQM chief Altaf Hussain is conspiring with the US to dismember Pakistan, armed forces will have to be extra vigilant to frustrate the designs of our adversaries.