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January 23, 2002
1316 IST

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Pak allows US forces use of Karachi airport

K J M Varma in Islamabad

Amid reports that the United States was pushing Pakistan to permit long-term presence of American forces on its soil, Islamabad has agreed to provide Washington and its allies full operational facilities at the Karachi international airport to make it the hub of the US-led peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan.

"An agreement in this regard is expected within a week, while the operation will begin by the middle of February," Air Marshal (retd) Aliuddin, director general of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority said in Islamabad.

"It is expected that 400 to 600 troops of 11 nations, that are part of the peace-keeping forces in Afghanistan, will be using Karachi Airport. These troops will not be stationed on a permanent basis but will be in the transit phase," Aliuddin was quoted as saying by Pakistan daily The News.

He said he was not certain how long these forces would use the facilities at Karachi airport.

"However, the shortest estimated period is six months," Aliuddin said.

News about the US using Karachi airport followed reports on Tuesday that US had asked Pakistan to spare enough land and grant necessary permission for it to build a permanent airbase in Pakistan's north-west Baluchistan, close to Afghan borders.

Pakistan defence spokesman, Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi, however, denied the report as baseless.

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