Amir Mir, DNAIndia.COM, Saturday, June 24, 2006 00:10 IST
ISLAMABAD: The filming of the Jacobabad military air base, which has prompted the Pakistani authorities to arrest and charge two Hindu journalists of Geo television under Official Secrets Act, was considered extra sensitive because the Shahbaz Air Base is still being used by the US-led Allied Forces for carrying out limited air strikes against the Al Qaeda and Taliban hideouts located on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.
The commercial airport at Jacobabad, about 300 miles north of Karachi and 300 miles southeast of Kandahar, is located on the border between the Sindh and the Baluchistan provinces. The air port is one of the three Pakistani air bases used by the US-led Allied Forces after the 911 terror attacks to support Operation Enduring Freedom campaign in Afghanistan that eventually led to the fall of the Taliban regime. The other bases are at Dalbandin and Pasni. Shehbaz air base in Jacobabad is the third largest airport in the country in terms of area.
The Jacobabad airport is one of the few airports in Pakistan that can be used jointly for military as well as commercial flight operations. Also known as PAF Shahbaz, the facility is a Forward Operational Base which would become fully operational during wartime.
The intelligence sources said General Pervez Musharraf had allowed the use of the air bases to the US under terms of an agreement that the Allied Forces can use these for search and rescue missions.
These sources rejected the government claim that it was specifically mentioned in the agreement that these air bases would not be used to stage air strikes on the Taliban targets. That’s why, the sources said, all the three air bases had been sealed off and a 5-km cordon set up around them by Pakistani security forces.
After the arrival of the American military air crafts, gunship helicopters and the US-led Allied troops at the Jacobabad air base, Jacobabad became the scene of several protests by opponents of the US air strikes on Afghanistan.
The Jamaat-e-Islami had threatened at that time to storm the air base and dozens of the supporters of the religious party were taken into custody. When Islamic extremists tried to march to the Jacobabad airfield on October 14, 2001, one person was killed and 25 people injured in clashes with police.
By late November 2001, hundreds of the Allied Forces soldiers were housed in 42 aircraft hangars at the air base. In early December 2001, Pakistan agreed to an American request for a long-term presence at Jacobabad.
They requested 40,000 metric tons of concrete to renovate the base. A wall surrounding the air base was raised by four feet, and air-conditioned barracks was built for the Allied troops since Jacobabad is the hottest city of Pakistan.
By early 2002, the Americans had done extensive construction and repair work at Jacobabad, and installed radar equipment. And five years down the road, the Americans continue to maintain a presence at the air base and no one is allowed to come closer to the area, what to talk of filming the site.