A visit to Shahbaz airbase: All is well…
I reached Shahbaz airbase along with several other journalists and senior Pakistan Air Force officials, to inspect the 36 new F-16 C Block 52 fighters. We were accompanied by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Air Staff Rao Qamar Suleman. We toured the revamped base where the recently acquired aircraft will be housed, and which has reportedly cost the government over $5 billion!
I could not see any American soldiers at the airbase, which is only 345 km away from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Everyone, including both the army and air force chiefs, appeared to be grateful to the United States for cooperating with the PAF in revamping the base as well as for providing modern aircraft to maintain regional strategic balance.
I, however, could not find answers to my queries despite spending more than three hours with both the officers. My questions related to our reliance on America’s help as well as apprehensions on India’s proposed $13 billion deal with France to purchase 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. I wanted to know whether this would not place Pakistan at a clear disadvantage in South Asia.
My journalist colleagues also asked the army and air chiefs several questions, but none of the questions relating to India or America were answered. Later on, during lunch, some of our queries were answered. For example, when asked whether General Kayani was in search of another extension, he replied that the question should rather be put before the government.
He was asked who will decide whether or not to resume Nato supplies, and he said that this would be done by parliament. While enjoying a smoke, the army chief said the military was fighting militants but also trying to inflict minimum damage on the people in federally administered tribal areas.
When asked whether the standoff between the civilian leadership and military had cooled down, the arm chief claimed ‘all is well’. Meanwhile, the air chief said Shahbaz airbase was now completely under the operational control of the PAF and claimed the air force was fully capable of shooting down drones.
Despite the strained relationship between Pakistan and the US, it seems that the cooperation between the two allies is inevitable. A paradigm shift, however, is needed to keep the balance in these relations; it will not only lead both Islamabad and Washington to give a logical end to the Afghan endgame but also keep balance of power in the region.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the reporter visited Shamsi airbase. This has now been changed to Shahbaz airbase.
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