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Pakistan: UAE was upset over leak about Balochistan airstrip

last update: May 26, 12:24

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Islamabad, 26 May (AKI/Dawn) - The UAE government was extremely concerned, as far back as 2005, that details about its military cooperation with the Americans at a Pakistani airstrip had been leaked. Speaking to a US diplomat in Abu Dhabi, an official from the UAE government “expressed his displeasure…that some details of the UAE’s cooperation with the US military in Pakistan have become public,” a confidential US diplomatic cable obtained by Dawn reveals.

The May 11, 2005 conversation between Ahmed Al Musally, Director of the Asian and African Affairs Department at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US Deputy Chief of Mission in the UAE was reported in a cable dated May 14, 2005 and written by then Ambassador to the UAE Michele J. Sison.

Mr Al Musally complained that retired Gen Tommy Franks, former commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), in his memoir “American Soldier” had mentioned that “US forces had made use of Sheikh Zayed’s private airstrip in Balochistan.” Mr Al Musally said that this “leak” was brought to his attention by the then UAE ambassador in Pakistan who sent him an article published in a Pakistani newspaper on April 27, 2005 which “criticises the Pakistani government for keeping secrets, and… applauds General Frank’s openness in his book about the cooperation between Pakistan, the US, and other allies.”

It should be noted that on May 13, 2011, days after the Abbottabad operation, Pakistan’s deputy chief of air staff in an in-camera briefing reportedly revealed to the parliament that the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan — alleged to be a base for American drones — had been under the control of the UAE — and not the Pakistan Air Force — since the 1990s. Moreover, press reports in the past have also referred to the Shamsi airbase as being in use by US forces.

Mr Al Musally further specified that “the UAEG [UAE government] desires to keep details of the UAE cooperation with the US military in Afghanistan and Pakistan confidential, because the [UAE] government is concerned that public acknowledgement of this assistance could pose risks” to the security of UAE officials within the UAE or in Pakistan.

Mr Musally moreover noted that “members of the UAE’s ruling families frequently visit Pakistan for hunting,” and the information may compromise their security. “He noted that there are 500,000 to 600,000 Pakistanis residing in the UAE…`Maybe they can’t do anything here [in the UAE], but they might try there (i.e. Pakistan), especially when our leaders travel there.’”

The complaint moreover led to a meeting between the American envoy to the UAE and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Abdullah Rashid Al Noaimi on May 14, 2005. In that meeting, Ambassador Sison assured the Emirati official that “the Embassy would relay the UAEG’s concerns regarding this matter to Washington.”

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