Pak firm on closing airbase for US drones

Pak firm on closing airbase for US drones

The request was made yesterday to Zardari by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, which has controlled the airbase in Balochistan province since the 1990s, media reports said today.

Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Islamabad yesterday on an unscheduled visit and met Zardari and army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

His visit comes two days after the Pakistan government asked the US to vacate the airbase following a cross-border air strike by NATO aircraft from Afghanistan that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers.

Official statements issued by the presidency and the military about Sheikh Abdullah's meetings made no mention of the issue of Shamsi airbase, which Pakistan leased to the UAE in 1992 for use for members of the emirates' royals flying in for hunting expeditions.

The UAE reportedly allowed the US to use the base for drone flights after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Media reports quoted Pakistani sources as saying that Zardari had turned down Sheikh Abdullah’s request to review the government’s decision to ask the US to vacate the airbase or to extend the 15-day deadline given to the US.

During his meetings with Zardari and Kayani, the UAE Foreign Minister pleaded against pushing too hard for getting the airbase vacated, the Dawn newspaper reported.

The News quoted its sources as saying that Zardari had told Sheikh Abdullah that the government would follow the decision by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet to get the US to vacate the airbase.

Shamsi airbase, located 300 km from Balochistan capital Quetta, has been used as a launch pad for US drone strikes in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

The Pakistan government had earlier asked the US to leave the airbase in June after the American military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2.

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