A visit to Shahbaz airbase: All is well…

Published: February 23, 2012

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. PHOTO: INP

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.

Zahid Gishkori

Zahid Gishkori

A reporter for the national desk of The Express Tribune in Islamabad who tweets @ZahidGishkori

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ahsan

    $140million for each F-16 ?? Thats the cost of the newer F-35II or the known F-22 raptors.

    So every aircraft we buy from them, Pakistan is actually funding 90% of their own air dominance programme, which is used to bomb and strike people all over the world. Good going.Recommend

  • Nadir

    Dont you mean Shahbaz Air Base in Jacobabad?Recommend

  • http://truthexposed123.blogspot.com Truth Exposed

    you really went with Kiyani?Recommend

  • http://www.hungry.com/~fn/ Faried Nawaz

    @Ahsan: The (upgraded) base cost $5 billion, not the aircraft.Recommend

  • http://www.terminalx.org Zaki Khalid

    Shahbaz Airbase, not Shamsi you twits!Recommend

  • saad

    Someone tell the worthy journalist the difference between shamsi and jacobabad. poor reporting. Recommend

  • http://bigsaf.newsvine.com bigsaf

    Meanwhile, the air chief said Shamsi airbase was now completely under the operational control of the PAF and claimed the air force was fully capable of shooting down drones.

    Heard the same disingenuous bombastic claim a year or so earlier from General Kayani. Yet to hear of one drone brought down by Pakistan. One was hacked by Iran, and another was rumoured to have either malfunctioned or shot down by militants. Nothing that PAF or the army can claim.

    Do not understand the objective of such a silly hypocritical statement. It only obfuscates on top of their lack of transparency. Are they denying Pak has cooperated with the US, when we know they have many times? Is it exploiting populist anti-US sentiments among the masses to garner blind patriotic support for themselves? Or warning the US, they could, but won’t? It’s a bit like the same old blind hyperbolic parrot patriot ‘one Pakistani soldier is equal to 10 Indian soldiers’ nonsense. Recommend

  • @Nadir: Yup, wondering the same thing! Shamsi is the little known and rather rudimentary airstrip Balochistan we just got the Americans to vacate. Recommend

  • Rafaqat

    How seriously are we supposed to take the words of a journalist who has been to Shahbaz Air Base but actually thinks he was at Shamsi ? Recommend

  • John B

    What does the author mean by balance of power in the region. Try as it may, PAK will always be short of balance of power with India, China, or Iran. That’s the reality. In the Western hemisphere everyone is short of balance of power with the US. That does not stop any one from sleeping peacefully.

    PAK should get rid of this mindset.Recommend

  • rex minor

    Great, Gen Kyani has managed to obtain the air base back from the yanks. The country which gained its indpendence in 1947, let its soveregnity on lease to the yanks against a sum of money who used Shamsi and other bases to cause death and destruction of its wn citizens, calling them extremists and tribal people! What a shame. Your weakness is now known to the yanks and they are not going to let go so soon. People of Pakistan has more surprises to discover what their Govt. has been collaborating with foreign power.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Pakistani

    There are 18 new Block 52 F-16s (because we only ordered 18, how can we get 36), the remaining must have been refurbished (mid life upgradation) C&D class F-16s. And its Shehbaz Air Base not Shamsi. Even we know more than the writer…. Recommend


    @John B: Dear John. balance of power means, the countries need to have an equal defefence capability rather than racing in weapons. As it is the US policy, whom to give more and whom not to. Pakistan has suffered alot in American War against terrorism but even than India has always been one of the dearer countries to US, this is why, US is still planing to give civil nuclear technology to India where as Pakistan is going through its worst time in its history just becuase of the War that we are throughn in. Why US dont see the basic needs of Pakistan in energy? why It doest see Pakistan`s importance in this region? There is no doubt that US has been helping Pakistan for such a long time but on other hand It has been using the surface for its own intrests too. In the whole scenario, Pakistan itslef sees bit insecure, thats why, Pak is going further for defence coperations with other countries. eg. “China and soon with Russia.”Recommend

  • maha

    need more n more security Recommend

  • Usman Saeed

    @John B Pakistan being Pakistan, does it mean that by its very nature Pakistan should be a minor country in the region. Why should we be just a minor state with nothing to say about in the region. Your typical attitude in every comment on any article on Pakistan here at the Express Tribune displays your bias towards Pakistan. Its like what you really intend to say is that, ‘Pakistan is Pakistan and it should behave like that. How the hell does a country like Pakistan move up the ladder of power and influence in South Asia.’ I think in your haste you also forgot that we are a nuclear weapons state, not the Pakistan we once were. So whether you like it or not, we will always have a big role to play here.
    Second, as for your logic that the rest of western countries need not fear the US. Well the logic doesn’t apply here. China, India, Iran and Pakistan are so different in their cultures and way of life, we have a lot to mistrust each other about. On the other hand, west for all its colors really is a single civilization. And from our standards its monolithic. Recommend

  • bp

    18 /52s not 36 apparently. The 18 follow-ons were not taken.Recommend

  • http://www.tribune.com.pk Zahid Gishkori

    Dear ET Readers:
    It’s was an honest mistake on my behalf. I tendered apology here. You better understand Shamsi Airbase remained in limelight and we being journalists used to write excessively on this hot issue. This was the main reason which led me to write Shamsi Airbase rather than Shahbaz Airbase.

    Hope you will forgive me and will continue to give their feedback….


  • P

    If there was no US personnel at Shabaz air base. then what happened with the special agreement between Pakistan and the USA regarding security of the F-16 technology:
    The security notes also mandate a 5-year, 24/7 U.S.
    technology security presence for the F-16s. SAF/IA has
    determined that when fully in place, the U.S. security
    presence should consist of 45 U.S. personnel — 40 at Shahbaz
    (5 U.S. military and 35 contractors), and 5 in Islamabad (2
    U.S. military, 1 USG civilian, 2 contractors). The estimated
    cost of the U.S. security presence is $30 million per year,
    or $150 million for the full 5-year period.