- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pakistani airmen sabotaged their fighter jets to prevent them from participating in operations against militants along the border with Afghanistan, according to a leaked U.S. Embassy cable.

Another cable reveals that Pakistan’s army chief asked U.S. military officials for “continuous” coverage by Predator drones along that border despite criticism of the strikes by Pakistani officials in public.

The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has provided a batch of U.S. diplomatic cables to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper and India’s New Delhi Television and the Hindu newspaper.

A March 2006 cable cites the Pakistani deputy chief of air staff for operations, Air Vice Marshal Khalid Chaudhry, as telling a visiting U.S. delegation that he was receiving monthly reports of acts of “petty sabotage” of jets by airmen.

Vice Marshal Chaudhry interpreted these acts as an effort by “Islamists amongst the enlisted ranks to prevent [Pakistani air force] aircraft from being deployed in support of security operations in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas along the Afghan border,” the cable says.

The U.S. delegation was led by John Hillen, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.

Another cable, sent in February 2008, revealed that Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, sought “continuous Predator coverage of the conflict area” in an area along the Afghanistan border where the Pakistani army was fighting militants.

In a meeting on Jan. 22, 2008, Gen. Kayani asked Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, who was chief of U.S. Central Command, for drone presence over South Waziristan.

“Fallon regretted that he did not have the assets to support this request, but offered Joint Tactical Aircraft Controller (JTAC) support for Pakistani aircraft. Kayani demurred, saying that having U.S. JTACs on the ground would not be politically acceptable,” according to the cable.

Vice Marshal Chaudhry, speaking “off the record,” told Mr. Hillen that Pakistani aircraft are called regularly to provide air support to military and security forces when they get into tight spots in the tribal areas near the Afghanistan border, “dryly adding that army brass and the ground forces commanders would deny it,” the cable said.

In a rare public statement this year, Gen. Kayani condemned a March 17 U.S. drone strike that Pakistan said killed up to 40 people in North Waziristan.

Most Pakistanis oppose drone strikes, which they see as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

U.S. and Pakistani officials have not publicly acknowledged the covert program.

However, a Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter, told The Washington Times that these operations have been carried out after robust intelligence sharing between Pakistan and the U.S.

The Predator drones are operated from bases inside Pakistan the Shamsi air base and Jacobabad.

U.S. officials and analysts say elements within Pakistan’s armed forces and intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, are reluctant to sever ties with militants operating in Afghanistan and India.

“Pakistani military operations against insurgent groups have always been primarily focused on threats to Pakistani security,” said Jeffrey Dressler, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, raised questions about Pakistan’s commitment to acting against terrorists.

“I’m deeply disturbed by what seems to be a state that plays a double game, that accepts significant multibillion-dollar aid from us, combat groups that target its own domestic concerns, but then clearly hedges against the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is an uneven partner at best,” he said.

Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden early May 2 in Abbottabad, a garrison town about 30 miles from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. The al Qaeda leader’s hide-out was barely a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul.

In his meetings with the U.S. officials, Vice Marshal Chaudhry said Pakistan’s military leadership has a tough time maintaining positive attitudes toward the U.S. among enlisted personnel.

The cable says he cited the susceptibility of the enlisted ranks - most of whom come from rural areas - to the influence of Islamist clerics. “You can’t imagine what a hard time we have trying to get to trim their beards,” Vice Marshal Chaudhry is quoted as saying in a cable.

Conservative Muslims grow full beards as a sign of piety.

While in Pakistan, Mr. Hillen heard criticism of President George W. Bush’s decision not to give Pakistan a civil nuclear deal similar to the one he struck with India.

A Pakistani official expressed dismay at Mr. Bush’s reference to rogue nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, as the reason why the U.S. would not offer this deal to Islamabad.

Nazir Hussain, who at the time was chief of protocol at Pakistan’s foreign ministry, told Mr. Hillen: “Your man cut Musharraf off at the knees” with that public comment, according to the cable. Gen. Pervez Musharraf was the Pakistani president.

Pakistan was negotiating the sale of F-16 fighter jets with the U.S. at the time, and Vice Marshal Chaudhry asked Mr. Hillen to ensure that the deal “has enough sweeteners to appeal to the public - a complete squadron of new F-16s, with JDAM and night-vision capability - but not to offer the PAF things that it cannot afford,” according to the cable.

Discussing the Chinese JF-17 Thunder jet, a key component of Pakistan’s fighter fleet, Vice Marshal Chaudhry acknowledged that the jet was not comparable to the U.S. F-16 in terms of quality, particularly its avionics and weapons systems.

On a trip to Beijing last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani secured a deal in which China will provide Pakistan with 50 more JF-17s.

Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Pakistan was seeking delivery of the jets within six months.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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