Thursday, 26 May 2011

Afraid Pakistani Navy Considering Moving Naval Base After Attack

Pakistan said it was considering whether to relocate its Karachi naval air base after a Taliban attack killed 10 security personnel and destroyed two U.S.-made surveillance aircraft.

The assault on May 22 was the worst on a military base since the army headquarters was besieged in October 2009, further embarrassing the armed forces three weeks after Osama bin Laden was found living under their noses.

After the attack took 17 hours to repel, Adm. Noman Bashir, the chief of naval staff, conceded that a relocation was possible.

"When the Mehran base was established 36 years ago it was far from the population. But now it is surrounded by civilian populations on all sides, thus the security risks have multiplied," said navy spokesman Commander Salman Ali.

Karachi is Pakistan's financial capital and the assault was the fourth on the navy in a month after three bombings in late April killed nine people.

The city, which is used by NATO to ship supplies to Afghanistan, has also suffered scores of killings linked to ethnic and political tensions between migrant Pashtuns from the northwest and the local Urdu-speaking majority.

Ali said it would be impossible to relocate each of the more than a dozen navy bases in Karachi, but said serious thought was going into Mehran, the only navy air base in the sprawling city of 16 million.

"Relocation is a highly technical and cumbersome task. It is not a matter of days. The authorities are thinking about all possibilities and requirements before shifting Mehran elsewhere," said Ali.

Despite the string of recent attacks, the spokesman insisted that other installations in the port city were "safe and satisfactorily secure."

Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, who accompanied the prime minister on a visit to China last week, said Islamabad had asked Beijing for help in building a naval base at its deep-sea port of Gwadar, west of Karachi.

China's foreign ministry said May 24 it was unaware of the request.

The Mehran base, about 10 kilometers from Karachi's international airport, was set up in 1975.