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    South Asia
     Jan 19, 2005
Karachi opens door to US forces
By Syed Saleem Shahzad and Masood Anwar

KARACHI - Having teamed up with the US to help eliminate Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan is once again proving its worth in the "war on terror", this time in Washington's quest against Iran.

Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker has reported that since at least last summer, US teams have penetrated eastern Iran, reportedly with Pakistan's help, to hunt for secret nuclear and chemical weapons sites and other targets in the hardline Islamic country, which features prominently on the Bush administration's "axis of evil", along with now "liberated" Iraq and North Korea.

Exclusive information gathered by Asia Times Online shows that Pakistan has provided extensive facilities to special United Kingdom and US units to train them in commando operations in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, which in many ways resembles the Iranian towns of Tehran, Shiraz, Isphan and other urban centers. Special forces from the US and Britain have staged unannounced exercises in Karachi. With its maze of high rises, communication networks and the division of the city (Sher-i-Bala and Sher-i-Payien), Tehran and Karachi are very similar.

"Pakistan's support to the US against Iran is logical as Iran did not hesitate to hand over all evidence of Pakistan helping Iran in developing nuclear technology to the international agency [International Atomic Energy Agency]," commented one analyst.

During the exercises, the troops got to know different localities, residential areas, roads and exit points of the city, including railway and bus stations and the airport. For the exercises, the troops were provided with detailed maps of Karachi, including important buildings. The exercises, which started several weeks ago, ended on January 17, highly informed sources revealed to Asia Times Online. The troops were barracked at Malir Cant, the cantonment area of the Pakistan army adjacent to Karachi airport.
On January 11, the troops conducted anti-hijacking exercises on a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft at an isolated yard several kilometers from the main terminal and runway, although they were provided with detailed maps of the airport.

While confirming the exercises, a spokesman of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Colonel Tahir Idrees Malik, said they were anti-terrorist drills. He said it was an honor for Pakistan to be able to give training "to these friendly countries". When asked why Karachi had been chosen, and why the troops did not do the drills in their own countries, he said exercises always took place where action was expected.

He refused to mention the names of the countries participating in the exercises, and repeatedly said that they were simply meant as preparation for anti-terrorist activities. He also confirmed the anti-hijacking exercises took place on a A-300 PIA aircraft, saying they were part of a long program for troops which included railway and bus stations. Any crowded place could be a target for terrorists, Idrees said.

This is the first time in the history of Pakistan that armed forces, including the Pakistan army, have been known to stage exercises in city areas. Traditionally, they exercise in areas resembling the borders, including deserts and mountains, to prepare for assaults from forces such as India's. Pakistan has fought three wars with India.

Asia Times Online sources maintain that for practical reasons it is difficult to accept the ISPR official's statement that the drills were meant for anti-terror activity in Karachi or in Pakistan. Karachi has been an exit point for Arab-Afghans to their countries of origin in the past, and almost all of the top al-Qaeda operators arrested were captured in or around Karachi, and their network effectively destroyed. Now, official handouts from the government of Pakistan or the US maintain that other al-Qaeda figures are likely to be moving around the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, while others have been tracked to the northern Punjab or North West Frontier Province.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

Masood Anwar is a senior reporter of The News International based in Karachi, and an expert on aviation affairs.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)


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