Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Pak refuses to extend 15-day deadline for closing Shamsi base

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Pakistan to boycott Afghanistan meeting

Pakistani students protest against NATO and United States in Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday. Pakistani officials say the country will boycott an upcoming meeting in Germany on the future of Afghanistan to protest a deadly attack by U.S.-led forces on its troops. (PTI)

Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari has reportedly turned down a request to extend the 15-day deadline set by the Pakistan government for the US to vacate Shamsi airbase that is believed to be used by CIA-operated drones.

The request was made on Monday 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 on Tuesday.

Sheikh Abdullah arrived in Islamabad on Monday 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.

Meanwhile, Pakistan will boycott an international conference on the future of Afghanistan in Germany next week to protest against a NATO cross-border attack that killed 24 of its soldiers and plunged the region deeper into crisis, officials said on Tuesday.

The decision not to attend the conference, aimed at bringing all major stakeholders together in securing a peaceful Afghanistan after NATO combat troops leave at the end of 2014, will likely rattle policymakes from Washington to Kabul.

“Pakistan has decided not to attend the Bonn conference as a protest,” a government official told Reuters after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in Lahore.

A second government official, who also asked not to be identified, confirmed the decision. One fear is that Pakistan might seek to pursue its own interests in Afghanistan, disregarding those of its allies in the West and elsewhere.

The decision appears to be the latest attempt by Pakistan to put pressure on the United States, Afghanistan and NATO.

Pakistan says NATO staged an unprovoked attack on two combat outposts early on Saturday that killed 24 Pakistani troops and wounded 13.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Monday Washington hoped Pakistan would still attend the conference. (PTI)

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