Date: 19 Aug 2010
It is reported in the media that relief operations for around 700,000 persons could not be carried out because an airbase in Jacobabad district, Sindh province, is controlled by the US forces. The US forces denied permission for the air strips to be used to deliver much-needed relief to the adjoining areas which are submerged in water and where 700,000 people are trapped. As there are no other air strips in the vast area close to Jacobabad and its adjoining areas, the authorities are finding it difficult to drop the relief in the flood-affected areas.
According to the Daily Dawn, the largest circulated English newspaper, Mr. Khushnood Lashari, the health Secretary during an appearance at the Senate Standing Committee on Health, revealed that health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is under the United States control. The coordinator of the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Centre, Dr Jahanzeb Aurakzai, told the standing committee of the Senate that foreign health teams could not start relief operations in remote areas because there are no airstrips close to several areas, including Jacobabad.
Jacobabad and its neighbouring areas have been evacuated and 500,000 to 700,000 people have been affected. People displaced from Jacobabad, Thul, Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghouspur and Karumpur are camping in Dera Allahyar, Balochistan province.
The Jacobabad airport was leased to the US forces at the start of war on terror to provide air facilities to the US forces including fuelling and stopovers. Since then it has been treated as an exclusive base for US forces. In one case, two journalists of a television channel when visiting the Jacobabad airport in 2006, were arrested and tortured severely for many months for making a story on the airbase. Please see the urgent appeal for Mukesh Rupita and Sanjay Kumar of Geo Television: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2006/1801/
Drone jets are also flown from Jacobabad air base to attack suspected militants and their strong holds inside Pakistan and Afghanistan killing hundreds of suspected militants.
After the refusal of US-controlled air base to provide assistance in the provision of relief to the affected persons of the worst floods in the history of Pakistan, the Pakistan Air Force is trying to form an air bridge of relief supply for the victims in Jacobabad. Nevertheless, at a time where road transportation is impossible, the denial of permission to use Jacobabad air base to reach out to the victims has undoubtedly slowed down the process, while aid is urgently needed as food get scarce and children are falling sick due to lack of drinkable water. The longer it takes for the aid to reach the affected families, the higher the toll in human lives will be.
It is very regrettable and ironic that a country cannot use its own air strips at the time of a natural disaster of such scale that it was qualified as ‘the worst I have never seen’ by the UN Secretary General. The leasing of the airbase commenced when there was a military government but when a civilian government came into power with the vote of people, the US forces have not deemed it necessary to ask the permission from the civilian power to maintain control of the air base. The behavior of US forces is no different to that of a colonial power and this comparison is all the more relevant as they are not prepared to help the 700,000 victims who are facing hunger, water born diseases and are lying under the sky without shelter.
The United States pride themselves of being the country who has pledged the highest amount of aid to Pakistan since the beginning of the flooding but are de facto creating obstacles to the distribution of foreign aid to flood-affected. This news comes only a few days after a speech given at the occasion of the 63rd anniversary of Pakistan’s independence in which the President of the United States asserted that ‘we will remain committed to helping Pakistan and will work side by side with you and the international community toward a recovery that brings back the dynamic vitality of your nation’. It seems difficult to understand how less efficient disaster relief will reinforce the vitality of Pakistan.
The US justifies their presence in the country by the necessity to fight terrorism and act in favour of the stability of the region. Throughout the history of the US war on terror and of their presence in Pakistan and in Jacobabad in particular, the US has looked down on the necessity to eradicate the root causes of terrorism and anti-American feelings in the region, which could have been achieved by valuing such things as the sovereignty of the people, the respect of human rights and humanitarian laws or the emphasis put on bringing assistance to the people. Those elements are necessary to guarantee the much-valued ‘stability’ of the country. Unfortunately, keeping control of an airbase in another country without having received the explicit approval of a democratically-elected government, using this airbase to conduct extrajudicial executions of suspected militants and not authorising the authorities of this country to use this airbase at a time of major natural disaster therefore slowing down the transportation of food and medicine to dying children, is point by point at odds with those principles.
This is the worst kind of arrogance shown by the US forces at the time of the worst kind of disaster faced by the poor people. If US forces are afraid of anything then they should control the relief operations in the areas of Jacobabad Sindh and Dera Allahyar, Balochistan province.
After almost ten years of the unsuccessful fight against terrorism, the US forces should understand that allowing foreign aid to reach those in dire need as soon as possible should be a priority not only for humanitarian reasons but also to ensure the security of the US forces there.
The Asian Human Rights Commission urges Mr. Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, and the international community, to immediately intervene in the matter of Jacobabad air base and urge the US government to allow the relief operations to use the airstrips of Jacobabad airport to reach out to 700,000 victims of floods in some parts of Sindh and Balochistan provinces. About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984