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US Quetta consulate plan put on hold

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is waiting for an opportune time to allot a piece of land for the construction of the US Consulate-General building in Quetta, a news report published here Tuesday in the Express Tribune has said. Though formal approval for the establishment of the US diplomatic mission in Quetta was accorded early this year, the government of Balochistan has still not taken a decision on the site for the consulate.

Security agencies have advised against the immediate construction of the US mission, contending that its presence in Quetta may worsen the already poor law and order situation caused by the armed Baloch insurgency. The Taliban are already furious over the presence of CIA and US troops at Shamsi Air Base-A, which is acting as a launch pad for the US drone attacks. The provincial government has been told to put the issue on hold till the appropriate time, a source said.

Shamsi air base was handed over to the CIA by the then president Gen Pervez Musharraf during his last years in power. The base, located in the Kharan district of Balochistan, is fully guarded and protected by the military. The local inhabitants of Kharan have time and again voiced resentment over the virtually free movement of the US armed personnel
in their areas.

To win over Kharan’s residents, the US has initiated small welfare and health-care projects about 250 KM from the country’s border with Iran.

A local, who requested to remain anonymous, said that he had seen at least three US drones crashing while landing and taking off from the Shamsi base, a few months ago. One of the drones was about to hit a residential accommodation when it crashed into a nearby locality of the Shamsi base, he said. “People are scared and angry over the presence of the US troops in our area,” he said.

Kharan is also a base for Baloch insurgents who have maintained close links with Jundallah militants of Baloch origin in the Pakistan-Iran border area. Though the Iranians have not publicly reacted to the establishment of the US base at Shamsi near its borders, yet officials in Quetta noted their reservations when their ambassador in Islamabad visited the city in October this year.

The US will continue using the airbase, however the government is not satisfied with their payments for its use, said Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar in December last year. Earlier, the US was also reported to be using the Jacobabad and Pasni airbase for its operations in Afghanistan.

In September, the former US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson said at a news conference that a US consulate will be set up in Quetta to oversee the development activities carried out by Americans in Balochistan.

“It will also ensure a close liaison between the Baloch people and the US and will provide visa facility to the people of Balochistan,” she said while brushing aside allegations that the consulate was intended to keep a close eye on Iran and Afghanistan.
Input from Agencies

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