After US, now Chinese bases in Pakistan!

Frances Gary Powers (right) with U-2 designer Kelly Johnson (left). Gary Powers was pilot of the Central Intelligence Agency spy plane which was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over Soviet airspace, causing the 1960 U-2 incident. The clandestine U2 flight over the erstwhile USSR originated from Peshawar in Pakistan. The ‘Spy in the Sky’ U-2 flying mission, so angered the Soviet Strong man Nikita Khrushchev that he threatened to bomb Badaber near Peshawar out of existence — Badaber was the base leased to the Americans in Peshawar in the 1960’s. 



by Nayyar Hashmey


This post by Amir Mir, tells how desperate our leaders have been to ask the Chinese to set up bases in Pakistan. While doing this they seem to forget that in the 1960’s too we had asked the Americans to set up bases here. This arrangement though enabled us have a modern air base at Sargodha and a Cantonment at Kharian, but what was hidden from the people of Pakistan was a secret air base at Badaber near Peshawar.

Rumours circulated in those days that not even the foreign minister of Pakistan, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who later became country’s prime minister, was allowed entry into the base, resulting in a disgrace to the country as well as a personal let down of the foreign minister of Pakistan. It naturally translated into a hurting of national ego and pride of all Pakistanis who then started raising a demand to get rid of such unwanted military installation on the soil of Pakistan.

 But all these developments remained petty rumors and would have remained so, were it not the Soviets who shot down a U.S. spy plane [U-2] which was detected flying inside the Soviet air space and Gary Powers, the pilot of the plane was captured. The Soviet strong man in those days, Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had marked the Badaber base in red and that the Soviets might bomb the Peshawar and Badaber air bases any time, because as said the Russian leader, the U-2 spy plane had taken off from Peshawar. It was this incident that made us learn about the existence of this secret U.S. base in Pakistan.

Aerial view of Badaber Airbase in Peshawar [1960’s]. Badaber was a facility about 10 miles (16 km) away from Peshawar. It was a cover for major communications intercept operations run by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Badaber was an excellent location because of its proximity to Soviet central Asia. This enabled the monitoring of missile test sites, key infrastructure and communications. The U-2 was allowed to use the Pakistan Air Force portion of Peshawar Airport to gain vital photo intelligence in an era before satellite observation.

 It may be recalled that U.S. from the very start had been saying that the military aid being given to Pakistan under SEATO and CENTO [joint defense pacts] was exclusively meant for use against Communist aggression. But our leaders kept on repeating that when there was war with the enemy [and unfortunately when we say ‘enemy’, in Pakistan its always India and there in India ‘enemy’ specifically is Pakistan], we will use whatever we have and from wherever we have. This duplicitous approach not only did a good amount of damage to us by earning enmity of the Communists but also the U.S. too [rightly] withheld the spares for military hardware that we had received form America.

 With the stoppage of spares for all military equipment meant straightaway that our country could only fight a war if the Americans supported us by providing the necessary war materials, whereas the Americans persistently maintained that they provided us all military aid for a fight against the Communists [chiefly the Russians] and not against another country.

 We did this colossal error of judgment by aligning ourselves with the Americans then and still we didn’t learn any lesson. We earned the Soviets’ enmity for sake of America, but the same America did not do anything in 1971 to help us in East Pakistan, whereas the Soviets who had an entire past history of us dancing always to the tune of the Americans, be it the occupation of Suez Canal in the fifties by Israel, Britain and France or be it the Vietnam war, we always acted in unison with the U.S. and naturally against the Soviets, so they signed a pact with India which amongst other things envisaged that in case of an attack on India, the Soviets would consider it as an attack on the USSR.

 In the 1980’s we repeated the same mistake when the Soviets entered Afghanistan.

 By passage of time, classified information is now seeping out and it has come to light that the Americans baited the Soviets to fall into the death trap called Afghanistan and to let them have their Vietnam in that graveyard of empires. Unfortunately the Soviets fell into that trap and rest is all history.

 Though US did succeed in its endeavor to defeat the Soviets and US donned the cap of world’s sole super power, chalking the New World Order, an acronym for US global empire, the Pax Americana, BUT WHAT DID WE GET? Suicide bombings, burning of schools, killing of innocent Namazis in our holy places and a critical law and order situation; an evil phenomenon of extremism that is now striking at the very roots of the nation state of Pakistan!

The disused 200 miles airstrip south of Quetta in Balochistan was gifted to Abu Dhabi by the government of Pakistan in the 1990’s. The airstrip called Shamsi was developed by UAE Sheikhs into a jet capable airfield, and was used for falcon hunting of rare Bustards in Balochistan. Pakistan’s former dictator President P. Musharraf leased it out to US Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and the U.S. Air Force developed the strip as a military air base in great secrecy for bombing of Afghanistan.
Like Badaber near Peshawar, the development and use of Shamsi for clandestine operations was kept a highly guarded secret. Not even the Balochistan Chief Minister or the Corps Commander was allowed to visit the base when it was being developed for Drone operations. General Musharraf handed over Shamsi to the US Air Force for operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants [as part of operations in the so called war on terror]. 

Our predicament is that on one hand we allowed the U.S. the facilities to launch partisans’ attacks on the Soviets and Afghan installation in Afghanistan, and on the other we allowed them to set up bases near Pasni (Shamsi air base) in Balochistan and Jacobabad in the Sindh province [its from these two bases from where the drones take off and attack the militants including the peaceful civilians in North and south Waziristan].

The commercial airport at Jacobabad, about 300 miles north of Karachi and 300 miles southeast of Kandahar, is located on the border between Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Jacobabad is one of three Pakistani bases used by US and allied forces to support the Operation Enduring Freedom campaign in Afghanistan. The other bases are at Dalbandin and Pasni.
Under the terms of an agreement with Pakistan, the Allied forces can use these bases for search and rescue missions. Both Jacobabad and Pasni bases are sealed off and a 5km cordon set up around the bases by Pakistani security forces.
Though the Government of Pakistan reportedly has said that the base has been reacquired from the U.S. there is still a good amount of secrecy as to the actual status of the base, i.e. still in use by the CIA or taken back by Pakistan Air Force lock stock and barrel. [Image above: 9/11 Memorial at Shahbaz Air Base Jacobabad, Pakistan DR OBAID ANSARI)].

The U.S. drones which fly from Pakistani soil hit the Pakistani people for no fault of theirs. If they do kill a terrorist, along with that terrorist, they kill another 5-6 other civilians too. Its not surprising, therefore, that the general consensus amongst Pakistani public is that these drones are killing more Pakistanis than the insurgents.

Above examples are manifest of the immaturity of our political minds and in this regard they are all like ‘Santa Singh wald Banta Singh – One and the same thing’ [chips of the same block], be they the men in civil or be they the Khakis, because as far as service to the Americans is concerned, none likes to be left behind in the race to win America’s blessings, even if its at country’s own expense.

After such examples of U.S. meddling into our affairs, we still are prone or better say desperate to have Chinese bases in Pakistan. By allowing the U.S. bases we thought that —for us U.S. will fight against India. But U.S. didn’t fight against India. And why should have U.S.? If we offered the Americans our soil for US military bases in Pakistan, we received the arms and ammunition in lieu of that facility. They, however, had explicitly told our leadership that the military aid it was giving to us was solely meant against Soviet aggression and not against any other country, so the US was right in her own context and we in our own. So who was then wrong? Our leaders in power then, kept these indigestible facts from their own people. But we the people of Pakistan now have a right to ask leaders why they undertook such policies through which Pakistan has now ultimately been turned from an independent sovereign nation to a rentier state…..

 Let us now come to our leaders’ desperate bid to have Chinese bases on the soil of Pakistan. Chinese though through thick and then have been our best friends, they are indeed our friends in need but to expect China to let this friendship translate into a relationship which makes them fight our war against India or anybody else will be as much colossal an error as we had in the past.

 Let’s ponder over this premise, but then the question that props again and again is: Why should the Chinese fight against India, even though they are our best friends through ages, but good friendship doesn’t mean the soil of Pakistan be used against this or that country.

As I always have said friendship between nations is not a permanent phenomenon. Today’s enemy can be tomorrow’s friend and vice versa. I wish and pray that our friendship with China remains deeper than the oceans and higher than the height of the Himalayas but! wishes are not the fish to cast our net.

 China is an independent sovereign nation and so are we. They have their priorities and preferences and so have we. Permanent friendship between individuals and communities as well as between nations, attain longevity only when interests are common and they remain so in the distant future also. But its often so that sometimes interests do clash, a possibility which never should be overlooked while we set our foreign policy objectives.

 Unfortunately we are prone to jumping from one lap to another but such acts do not fit into a non emotional realistic and a purely Pakistan centric foreign policy.

The image of two behemoths going at each other with tusks and trunks, gouging and trumpeting, shoving and pushing is quite stirring. But more often than not, the actual fight is a transient encounter. It is the grass and the trees that bear the brunt of this show of force. They become the trampled patch of savannah, the grass that has been ground deep into the soil, the broken acacia tree or the ripped branch. The behemoths leave; but the environment — takes a long time to recover. ‘When elephants fight, grass gets trampled’, says an old African proverb. Isn’t there food for thought for us in this old, full—of—wisdom thought?
Question then arises, against whom shall we use these bases? If they are against America, then should we presume that our foreign policy pundits are so simplistic as not to realize the fatality of such a surmising? I agree America has mostly ditched us but does it mean that we should wish and accept America as our enemy. We’ve neither territorial nor an ideological dispute with the United States. Another factor which needs to be considered seriously is that why should we become a party to the war between an existing giant and a giant in the making.  As says an old saying, when the elephants fight, grass gets trampled.

 We have mostly been jumping into war of elephants and thus earned this fate. America defeated her sole rival in the super powers’ arena. USSR disintegrated. Now it can’t be a matter of solace for us that the Soviet Union is no more there. WE never had any territorial dispute with the Soviets either but we made USSR our enemy on America’s behest. As far the ideology we did have the difference but so had we and still have with China. But China’s godlessness never comes in our way. China has always been our real friend. But this has been and still it is the greatest paradox of our foreign policy that the godlessness of the Chinese did not deter us to develop a real friendship with them but we did earn an enmity with the Soviets because they were godless [or at least it was what the Americans told our leaders and they just believed and jumped into the war against the Soviets].

 Even today we  still are fighting America’s war [the so called war on terror] oblivious of the fact that on one hand is the terror of the individuals and on the other, is the terror of world’s sole super power and we have involved ourselves in this stupid war for the sake of that power. Whereas we as Pakistanis ought to fight a war [if at all we have to fight one] for Pakistan and Pakistan alone and this demands that the soil of Pakistan should no more be used by any other foreign power, China or no China, U.S. or no U.S.

And finally about this enemy syndrome. We treat India as our enemy and Indians too treat us so.  The movies that are regularly produced by Mumbai’s famous movie world are manifest of India’s mainstream response which bring blockbuster revenues to the producers of such stuff.

 The well known Indian film producer does say “Ye mere Bharat ki soch nahin hae” I wish this was the approach of all Indians but the state support both in India and Pakistan hypes up such differences and the enemy image is always projected in all type of media so the people get almost infested with this enemy syndrome. Resultingly the people instead of asking their leaders address common man’s problems are made to indulge in pseudo patriotic euphorias. Same is the case in Pakistan. The time has, however, come when both of us have to have genuinely patriotic policies and not the falsified super national approaches that so often bring the two neighbors to an eyeball to eyeball position.

In spite of the fact that I have never been to India yet I still I love that country, first because it is a country which is right our next door neighbor, but more so also because we have so much more to share with each other, a shared history, many cultural things, food and last but not least the music, which transcends all boundaries and borders.

 Let these commonalities, these shared traditions live for ever. Lets be friends. Let’s find solution to irritants that mar our relations. Let’s not find war and the enemy stance the only factor that solves our problems. Let’s give peace a chance.

 “My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me,

That I must love a loathed enemy”

(William Shakespeare)


Related Post:

The Death of Brother Leader & Lessons for us
Title Image, Image in the middle [Badaber], Image in the middle [US drones] in hangerImage in the middle: 9/11 monument, Shahbaz airbase at JacobabadImage right [Elephants] 



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12 replies to “After US, now Chinese bases in Pakistan!

  1. “not even the foreign minister of Pakistan, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who later became country’s prime minister, was allowed entry into the base, resulting in a disgrace to the country as well as a personal let down of the foreign minister of Pakistan.”

    I was stationed at Badaber during the 1960s. The foreign minister was allowed access to base facilities. However, he was not allowed access to classified areas. This was not unusual, even high-ranking US officials, who did not have required security clearances or did not have a need to know, were not allowed access to such areas. There was no intent to embarrass Pakistani officials. We had very good working relationships with local community leaders and Pakistani military officials. On a personal level, I responded twice to urgent calls for B- blood donations at a local Peshawar hostipal.

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