Archive for May 26, 2011
Heads Roll, Shoes Drop
Pakistan has removed the commander of a naval air base attacked by Taliban insurgents May 22. The raid, on the edge of Karachi, Pakistan’s main port and financial center, left a dozen dead, two maritime surveillance aircraft destroyed and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani military establishment.
Pakistani military leaders are still reeling from the May 1 raid in which Osama bin Laden was shot and killed by U.S. commandos in a compound just 35 miles outside the capital, Islamabad. Further revelations indicated that bin Laden had been living quietly there for years and Pakistani security officials — who claimed they had no idea he was so close — appeared to be either incompetent or in cahoots with bin Laden. Some American lawmakers have called for cutting the billions of dollars Islamabad gets in foreign aid.
While Pakistan’s military may be embarrassed, politicians there are furious with the U.S. and have been turning more and more toward China. In a recent visit there, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called China “our best and most trusted friend.”
Several years ago Beijing largely funded and built a commercial seaport at Gwadar about 300 miles up the coast from Karachi. Another shoe dropped when it was reported Pakistan has asked China to run the strategically located port — just down the coast from Iranian territory and overlooking vital sea lanes between Asia and Middle East oil ports. Returning from the Chinese trip with Gilani, Pakistan Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said Beijing agreed to take over operation of the deepwater port — currently run by a company in Singapore — and that Islamabad asked the Chinese to build a base for the Pakistani navy.
That news got analysts and diplomats worrying about China’s expanded presence in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. China has also funded construction at ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). Along with the port in Pakistan, they speculated, China’s navy would have a series of potential naval bases surrounding India. It’s been likened to a “String of Pearls.”
But China says there is no deal to operate the port or help build a naval base there. A foreign ministry spokeswoman said she had not heard of the Gwadar port deal.She added that the topic did not come up during Pakistani leaders’ visit to China, the Voice of America reported.