Pakistan's Shahbaz air force base in southern Sindh province, which is home to the country's newest F-16 jets, is 'controlled by the United States', a senior official has said.
Health Secretary Khushnood Lashari made the stunning claim about the Shahbaz airbase in Jacobabad area during an appearance before the Standing Committee on Health of the Senate or upper house of Parliament on Wednesday. Lashari said the relief operations in flood-hit areas of Jacobabad could not be conducted from the airbase because of this reason.
"Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States," he said while answering a question from a member of the committee.
There have been unconfirmed reports in the past that the Shahbaz airbase is used by the US to operate drones which have been targeting militants in Pakistan's restive tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
Senator Semeen Yusuf Siddiqui, a member of the Senate panel, was quoted by the media as saying, "It is very unfortunate that Americans can launch a drone attack from Shahbaz airbase but the government is helpless even in using the country's base for relief operations."
She questioned why the health minister had failed to report the matter to the Pakistan army.
However, the US embassy denied that the Shahbaz airbase was controlled by American authorities. "These allegations are completely false. Shahbaz airbase in Jacobabad is a Pakistan air force base, commanded and operated by PAF forces," the embassy's spokesman said in a statement.
The Shahbaz airbase is home to Pakistan's newest F-16 Block 52 jets that were delivered by the US this summer, the spokesman said.
"PAF personnel maintain high security standards there to ensure that the technologically advanced aircraft can be securely maintained and operated from the base," he said.
On August 18, at the request of the Pakistan government, C-130 aircraft of the US air force flew to the Shahbaz airbase from the PAF base in Rawalpindi to ferry urgently needed relief supplies for Jacobobad, the spokesman said.
He contended that "misinformation during times of disaster can hurt relief efforts."
The US has emerged as one of the main contributors of funding and relief materials for the millions of victims of floods across Pakistan in a bid to counter rising anti-American sentiments in the country.