KARACHI: The Pakistan Navy on Tuesday took delivery of two state-of-the-art surveillance aircraft made by the United States. Militants had destroyed two similar planes nine months earlier.
According to a statement issued by Pakistan Navy, it is to receive six such aircraft in batches of two. The first batch was received in 2010, but the planes were destroyed during a 17-hour siege of a key naval base in Karachi last May blamed on the Taliban. The attack killed 10 personnel and deeply embarrassed the military, just three weeks after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad.
Part of the US foreign military funding (FMF) programme, these P3C aircraft are modified with the latest avionics/sensors. The planes are provided to patrol the Arabian Sea, which is a crucial trade route, but heavily laden with Somali pirates.
Speaking at the induction ceremony, Vice Admiral M Zakaullah welcomed the addition, saying the aircraft would help “maintain the requisite vigil in our vital area of interest in the North Arabian Sea.” He added that the area, an important trade and energy corridor for the global economy, is home to intense maritime activity, legal and illegal, and thus warrants continuous guard. He noted that the planes will help increase the force’s combat capacity. The ceremony was attended by a large number of serving and retired Pakistan Navy personnel.
Relations between the two countries remain tense following a covert operation by the US that killed Osama bin Laden. US airstrikes have killed about 24 Pakistani soldiers since it started its crackdown on the ongoing insurgency. Pakistan had asked for an apology by Obama, but instead an inquiry by the Pentagon stated that the Pakistani soldiers had attacked first; this further vexed the government.
The United States has repeatedly accused Pakistan of not doing enough to counter extremism and terrorist attacks, with its officials often voicing opinions to reduce aid. Pakistan, in turn, has reiterated its loyalty to the cause but condemns activities which disregard the country’s sovereignty.
The Guardian, last year, had quoted a former Pakistani foreign secretary, Dr Humayun Khan as saying “Pakistan can’t really afford to annoy the US permanently and will have to cool down a bit at some stage.”
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2012.
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