Decade-long stay: Tensions nosedive as US vacates Shamsi airbase

Published: December 11, 2011

Pakistan military says Shamsi airbase has been completely vacated; Pakistan flag hoisted at base. PHOTO: ISPR

ISLAMABAD: As the last US plane left Shamsi airbase, an unexpected sense of optimism hung in the air, as Pakistan seemed prepared to move forward and US President Barack Obama asked for an early report into the Nato air raid which precipitated the move.

The military appears to be in a much more positive mood. Indeed, a senior security official described the US decision to leave Shamsi airbase as a step in the right direction. “The development will certainly lower tensions,” said the official, who asked not to be named – a sign that, despite both sides looking forward, the situation remains delicate.

Another official said the government expected to see some normalcy returning to US-Pakistan relations. “I think we should move beyond the incident,” he added, indicating a softening of the tough stance taken by Islamabad since last month’s airstrikes, which killed 24 troops.

He emphasised that a lot will now depend on the outcome of the US probe into the incident. “If they accept their mistake and take care of our sensitivities then things will improve,” the official said. “The ball is in their [the US’] court.”

The airbase, located about 300 kilometres south of Quetta, had been under the US control for over a decade, after military operations were launched to dislodge the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in October 2001.

The base was widely believed to have been used in a covert CIA drone campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda commanders in the tribal areas which border Afghanistan. It was also said that the US had used the facility for surveillance on Iran.

In the aftermath of the Nato attacks, with Pakistanis – from street to cabinet level – fuming, Islamabad had given the US 15 days to leave the airbase. The US complied, though reports also emerged that a gradual wind-down operation had been happening since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

“The control of the base has been taken over by the army,” said a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations. The military’s media arm also released photographs, one showing security personnel guarding the base and in the other a US plane was seen taking off from the facility in what was termed the last flight carrying American officials and their equipment.

Reviewing the terms of engagement

The development comes just a day before a two-day conference to review ties with the US begins.

The conference, to be attended by ambassadors and high commissioners from key world capitals, will discuss various options following the Nato attacks. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will chair the concluding session of the conference. The government has already announced its review of terms of engagement with the US. As part of the review, the military say they are considering an air defence system at the border with Afghanistan to prevent future incursions by Nato.

Some Western media reports indicate that under the new strategy Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has authorised Pakistani troops to shoot down drones if they cross over to Pakistan.

However, a military official said such a decision can only be taken by the country’s political leadership. “Shooting down a drone is not the issue but the main question is: can we withstand the consequences of such an event,” he asked. “We cannot afford to confront the US. We have to find the way out.”

Contradicting this view, however, a senior unnamed Pakistani military official was quoted by NBC News as saying that “any object entering into our airspace, including US drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down.”

(Read: What the US and Pakistan must do now)

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2011.

Reader Comments (56)

  • Qasim
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:28PM

    Better late than never. Without waiting for another tragedy, get hold of other bases, which supposedly are in foreigners’ use.

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  • Sam
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:48PM

    so that means we will have to wait for more Pakistani soldiers to be killed to vacate remaining present in Pakistan.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Dec 11, 2011 - 1:58PM

    Well done. Pakistan should now strive to take back control of FATA and North Waziristan as well.

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  • Hairaan
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:11PM

    Would this translate into fewer drone attacks???

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  • guest-worker
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:23PM

    the three vehicles are spy devises for monitoring Pak. NEVER EXPECT GOOD FROM YOU ENEMY

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  • amer nadeem
    Dec 11, 2011 - 2:50PM

    that’s good policy to get rid of USA if it not crumbled, still Shahbaz airbase is in their control. Pakistan has to review its defense strategy to deem “India is only enemy”, NATO’s strikes has sufficient to revisit Pakistan’s defense policies “to internationalize rather localize“…..

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  • Javed
    Dec 11, 2011 - 3:08PM

    Great! We have secured Shamsi base and negotiating the surrender of Bajaur Agency. Moral of the story: if you kill 24 soldiers we will fight for our sovereignty but if you kill 3000 soldiers we will call you our brothers and surrender

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  • Dec 11, 2011 - 3:45PM

    Neither Army nor CAA authorities will be there in Shamsi. US people must have left at their own and must have left all to the local CHOWKIDAR of UAE Royal Family.

    I visualize ONLY a small detachment of FC Balochistan led by a Captain from Kharan or Kalat must have gone to secure the area for some weeks.Recommend

  • Dec 11, 2011 - 4:14PM

    Vienna,December 11,2011
    If it was true that the base was used to attack Afghanistan
    then President Dr.Hamid Karzai has “reciprocal sovereign”
    rights to raid by drones from Afghanistan into Waziristan´s
    FATA holes!!! That helps, so no violations are involved.
    Taravadu Taranga Trust for Media Monitoring TTTMM India
    –Kulamarva Balakrishna

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  • Pakistani
    Dec 11, 2011 - 4:17PM

    The courage being shown by the political government of Pakistan is commendable .Vacation of the shamsi base is not a small deal .Even our muslim brother countries have also pushed us not to vacate it from the US but good job Pakistani Govt.Stand on your own feet this whole nation is with you .Recommend

  • FactCheck
    Dec 11, 2011 - 4:59PM

    @amer nadeem:

    Internationalize with what? HOT AIR?

    From where CHINA?

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  • Dec 11, 2011 - 5:08PM

    Just now heard over US cable news that US govt has ordered Pakistan not to fly F-16 in any combat mission whatever from fifteen days from today.

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  • A. Khan
    Dec 11, 2011 - 5:16PM

    Thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians killed by American drones and nothing changed at Shamsi. 24 soldiers meet their maker and Shamsi gets vacated.

    Just what exactly is Pak Army protecting : Pakistan, Pakistani citizens or itself ?

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  • Dec 11, 2011 - 5:41PM

    america has many other bases there; both in afghanistan and pakistan. what difference does it make ?

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  • Ashraf P
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:09PM

    Well done !! Now we should try to get Pakistan back.

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:22PM

    Thanks God.

    Finally, the evil has vacated the Shamshi airbase.

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  • G. Din
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:31PM

    The headline should have been:”Pakistan takes over Shamsi base”. It is not as if you had to mount a police or a military action to occupy it! Had you done so, you would never have seen this day considering that you cannot even prevail over those “strategic assets” you yourself created!

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  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,IBA Karachi
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:57PM

    Now militants will have a free hand with little drone attacks. It will only get worse. Americans should control the entire Pakistani airspace and only then will be able to eliminate terrorists!

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  • Uzair
    Dec 11, 2011 - 6:57PM

    @Khalid Masood: Total Bollocks! absurd to be precise. 1brigadier, 2Lt.Colonels and 3majors are present there. Along with officials of the CAA, FIA and FC is guarding the premises.

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  • Dec 11, 2011 - 7:06PM

    whent hey will take control of Jacobabad base?

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  • sraza
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:07PM

    @G. Din:
    Get your facts straight. The only reason that Pakistan didn’t retaliate was because it didn’t have the clearance to. Now that Pak Army has the clearance, I’d like to see anyone trying to do anything, and then you might see what it’s capable of.

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  • Umer
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:19PM

    Story of our life. Give up parts of our country to US, UAE, Taliban; then take them back. Give up, then take back.

    Re-conquering own country.

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  • Patriotic
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:26PM

    if another drone strike takes place (and i am pretty sure it will soon enough), i wonder if anyone will raise the question if vacating the base was merely symbolic without any real advantages. Shoot down their drones, unless the accept that they can’t carry out drone attacks without Pakistanis controlling the drones, but then again why should the US listen to a nation that just begs and never does any research into technology itself. I believe that what is happening to us is something we deserve. We remained indifferent for too long, and this is merely what indifference eventually results in!
    Elect better people next time, not the same, old faces who have ruined our image!

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  • ashok sai
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:51PM

    It should read, ‘Pak army regains the control of Shamsi airbase.

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  • Nasib Ali shaheen
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:55PM

    I have heard that there are some other air bases are still under the US forces for example Shahbaz air base and one near Terbala and some other. If it is correct Govt should evacuate them from the bad control of america. You have to take fully U turn from the cunning enemy.

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  • Nadir
    Dec 11, 2011 - 7:57PM

    What about the other three bases where US personnel are present? Shahbaz Air Base, Pasni Base and Naval station etc? Or do we only get excited over US presence which the media highlights? I wish we could get as excited over regaining our soverignty in North Waziristan. But ofcourse our “brothers” are fighting the infidels so Pakistanis there just have to live with the consequences.

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  • Truth Teller
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:04PM

    Congratulations to our valiant armed forces by taking over Shamsi Air Base from NATO forces without firing a single shot! Bravo, we are so proud of you.

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  • Not me
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:05PM

    Explain me this: Pakistan had leased it to UAE
    UAE gave it to US government for use and they were flying their flag
    Now US has left and Paksitan is flying it’s flag:
    so where is UAE government now in all of this?

    Am I missing out on something???

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  • Muhammad Kashif
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:24PM

    After 10 years Pakistani forces landed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan.
    Being Muslim is really tough.

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  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:34PM

    I would request General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Chief of the Pakistan’s Army Staff to post Army Jawans at Shamshi Airbase on permanent basis so that no one else should occupy Shamshi Airbase again.

    Furthermore, General Kiyani should also see if any other Airbase or any part of the Port in any other province of the country is occupied by the US or any other country.

    If this will be the case, then the other Airbase(s) or the Port(s) should also be vacated and control of all such Airbase(s) and Port(s) should remain in the control of Pakistan’s Armed Forces.

    This is necessary under the prevailing circumstances so that no untoward incident or conspiracy against Pakistan should occur.

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  • M omar
    Dec 11, 2011 - 8:57PM

    Well done pakistan.

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  • Shah G
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:24PM

    now its obvious, all this is to facilitate talks between Taliban n U.S……. drones are no more required, tables are required for table talks n political settlement in afghanistan so obama can win elections :P

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  • antanu
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:33PM

    @Caaren Savon:
    well it may not mean anything…except that it sends a clear message to US ….UNCLE SAM you are gradually losing respect across the globe. Shamsi Base is a reminder to US and its war mongering

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  • Amna
    Dec 11, 2011 - 9:59PM

    They had an American flag hoisted?? Had ho gaye!!!

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  • khan m khan
    Dec 11, 2011 - 11:47PM

    welldone pak army ,,welldone pak army zinda baad pakistan zinda baad
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,pakistan govt sends a clear message to us for shamsi airbase and drone attacks and neto attacks .all nation happy now…….thanks Allah ………. pakistan zinda baad

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  • Arindom
    Dec 12, 2011 - 12:30AM

    And when will you take control of all the “NSA” ( non-state actors)?

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  • maestro
    Dec 12, 2011 - 1:03AM

    @Pakistani:
    What muslim “brother” countries?? UAE – Saudis?? They are the biggest kafirs and enemies of Pakistan – just look at how they treat Pakistanis who actually BUILT them, trained their lame “armed” forces – they are just hypocritical stooges of the US. They open all these wahabi madrassahs all over Pak preaching ignorance, hate and a distorted version of Islam, perpetrated 9/11 , while they go have 50 wives and mistresses and have a 100 kids – there’s a reason every nabi (SLWSLM) was sent to their region – because they are the original bedouin ignorat kaafirs. Kick out every arab from Pak and you will see the difference immediately. Why did the UAE FM fly in immediately to beg Pak not to close the Shamsi airbase which THEY leased out to the americans. Wake up people. We are PAKISTAN not the neanderthal middle east.

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  • Imran Mohammad
    Dec 12, 2011 - 2:04AM

    @Narayan

    any combat mission whatever from fifteen days from today.

    I order you to learn English before making a post.

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  • stenson
    Dec 12, 2011 - 2:25AM

    @Umer: Tell me what 3rd world or Muslim country has even an iota of the guts that Pakistan has shown in sticking up for itself? Think about how the Gulf Arabs came to cry that Pakistan not anger the world’s sole superpower. Imagine the Saudis, Egyptians or any Arab showing a small fraction of the guts that Pakistanis have shown. The truth is that it is not easy to stand up when you are a small player like Pakistan. The nation showed some self respect for which the population is relieved. Now we look forward to moving forward with the US in defeating the common enemy on the Afghan border but as real allies.

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  • Saad
    Dec 12, 2011 - 3:35AM

    The entire electronic media is declaring it a victory of sorts for Pak Army, what a disgrace!

    Not only is this not a victory of any sort, if this is an accomplishment its the civilian government who got the base back which was handed over to foreigners by a dictator in uniform.

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  • ayesha
    Dec 12, 2011 - 6:42AM

    @sraza: “Get your facts straight. The only reason that Pakistan didn’t retaliate was because it didn’t have the clearance to. Now that Pak Army has the clearance, I’d like to see anyone trying to do anything, and then you might see what it’s capable of.”

    The day after the Nov 26 incident 10 Rangers were killed by TTP. What is Pakistani army going to do about these terrorists – whose back was broken according to Kayani in April 2011? Oh right? you are going to negotiate with them.

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  • Cautious
    Dec 12, 2011 - 6:45AM

    You would not be in this position if you did not harbor terrorist — so few outside Pakistan have any sympathy for you. Talks cheap and the USA isn’t going to allow you to provide sanctuary to terrorist who are trying to kill their soldiers -and if Pakistan military attacks USA soldiers then the American public will support the elimination of that threat.

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  • A. Khan
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:06AM

    Lots of posts about whether Pakistan army took over Shamsi etc.

    People should question how Americans came to use that base. It was on Pakistani soil, yet the US flag was flying at Shamsi, making it for all practical purposes US territory. So the US took over a slice of Pakistan without firing a shot. So for all the talk about only US advisers being in Pakistan, it is now clear that was not the case. It took the US over 7 large freighters to move their personnel and stuff from Shamsi, claimed to be an in-operational base by Pak government and military.

    It appears that the Pakistan public has been lied. Who are we to trust in this country ? Recommend

  • antanu
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:34AM

    @Cautious:
    It was who harboured errorists during USSR invasion of Afghanistan. Main difference is US is too far (physically) beyond US to get its repercussion.Unfortunately Pakistan is too close and the Terrorists vented their ire upon it. So blaming Pakistan only for the mess is not a good idea. This is where US pakistan lies.US simply shrugged off any responsibility and made Pakistan an escape goat.Now and that too for a graceful exit from exit.

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  • hurt
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:50AM

    bravo pakistan taste your first victory over the period of 65 years of independence

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  • TP
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:59AM

    @Cautious:

    Mr Cautios your american Army can never fight with the Pakistan becouse we are a Nuclear power. You American can only fight with the weekest nation Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam etc etc.

    Just remember the drone that Iran capture few days back. We Pakistan and Iran will desteroy you america. Crush America, Death to America. I seriously America become Somalia or even worst then Somalia.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Dec 12, 2011 - 10:16AM

    @amer nadeem: “Pakistan has to review its defense strategy to deem “India is only enemy”. Welcome brother, better relations means we can both reduce the size of our defense
    budgets and spend the money saved on the pressing problems we have.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:00PM

    @TP:
    SO, you say “Crush America, Death to America. I seriously America become Somalia or even worst then Somalia” Remember, you do something really absurd and America will turn Pakistan into a Nuclear Wasteland! Recommend

  • G. Din
    Dec 13, 2011 - 1:02AM

    The Fat Lady has yet to sing!!!!!

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  • Manofsteal
    Dec 13, 2011 - 3:47AM

    @numbersnumbers

    Seriously mate…Please… if they could they WOULD have had already…like they did with Iraq. Pakistan’s program has advanced way too far for them to ‘destroy it’. It would invoke another war with all players in the region stepping in. It’s not that simple. Look at your geographic location and then analyse. Somethings are just too simple yet people don’t understand.They can only do things like memogate etc and politically take control and then maybe disarm Pakistan.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 13, 2011 - 10:38AM

    @Manofsteal:
    Sorry that I was not clear. TP speaks of a nuclear armed Pakistan crushing America. I was pointing out that if Pakistan attacked America with nuclear weapons, the American response would probably kill every single Pakistani “in country”Recommend

  • TP
    Dec 13, 2011 - 2:34PM

    @numbersnumbers:

    America can never fight with Pakistan. Remeber they can only fight with the weekest countries in the world. Pakistan is the Nuclear power and fighting with Pakistan means the big fight in the reagion that can possibily be turn into world war.
    Why you dont believe in God and rather you believe in America. you fear that Us will kill every pakistani and dont belive that God can and will save us from evil like America.
    Please stop being firghtened and dont act like a muslim of Jung-e-Uhad who ran on the mountain when enemy attacked them again.

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  • Dec 13, 2011 - 3:34PM

    I am of the openion and many will agrre with to me, that pakistan air force should also strike over the US Base in Afghanistan.
    What do u all think.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 14, 2011 - 5:12AM

    @TP:
    So, Where was “god” when Pakistan lost how many wars with India (along with the lives of countless brave soldiers)? Where was “god” when some 30,000 Pakistanis were killed (and tens of thousands more crippled and injured) by the Taliban over these last few years in terrorist attacks? Where was “god” when the Army surrendered almost 80,000 soldiers in a losing struggle as East Pakistan slipped away? Where was “god” when how many thousands of “volunteers” surged into Afghanistan back in 2001 to fight the “Americans”, never to return alive (other than their leader, Sufi Mohammad)? Christopher Hitchens wrote a great book titled “God is not Great”! After what has befallen Pakistan over the last few decades, that might be a good read!

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  • Shyam
    Dec 14, 2011 - 3:06PM

    @TP
    Why you dont believe in God and rather you believe in America. you fear that Us will kill every pakistani and dont belive that God can and will save us from evil like America.

    God helps those who help themselves. You cannot hide behind God everytime, you cannot put the onus on saving your behind solely on God. According to your theory if God does everything then considering the state of Pakistan then this also must be Gods doing.

    24 soldiers died because God wanted them to die. 30,000 Pakistanis died because God wanted them to die. So why are you blaming America??

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  • Javed
    Dec 17, 2011 - 4:24PM

    @numbersnumbers: Well said. Bloggers will ignore your comment

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