WASHINGTON: Pakistan is trying to reacquire an unspecified number of helicopters from the United States for anti-narcotics operations after returning nine Huey II helicopters it had acquired in 2002, diplomatic sources said on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan returned five of the nine helicopters it had received almost 15 years ago. The ministry of interior, which was using the aircraft, returned four of these nine rotary-wing helicopters on Oct 15.

Pakistan had received a total of 12 aircraft — including three fixed-wing Cessna airplanes — from the United States for anti-narcotics operations in Fata and Balochistan. Since the area is also used by militants for carrying out operations along the Pak-Afghan border, the aircraft reported their activities as well, when observed. Primary purpose of the aircraft, however, was to monitor smuggling of narcotics as the region is connected to a major drug-route.

Also read: US firm lobbied for and against Pakistan over F-16s

The aircraft were acquired under a renewable agreement and after the expiry of that agreement, Pakistan had the option to either return the aircraft or buy them. Although the United States urged Pakistan to ‘nationalise’ the helicopters after the agreement expired, the ministry of interior decided to return them, instead of buying them for continued use.

The ministry, however, purchased the three Cessna airplanes that came with the choppers.

The Americans, who received the remaining five aircraft on Monday, have already made “redirection” arrangements — selling it to a third party — so Pakistan cannot re-buy those helicopters. Instead, Pakistan will have to renegotiate a fresh deal.

But diplomatic sources, who spoke to Dawn, say that it should not be difficult to do so as both American and Pakistani officials acknowledge a direct link between narcotics and terrorism financing, Washington believes that stopping drug-trade in this region will also help reduce terrorism.

Pakistan renewed its interest in acquiring the choppers after the recent change of leadership in the interior ministry. The decision to return the helicopters was taken by the former interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while the new minister, Ahsan Iqbal, concluded that the ministry needs them to monitor the drug route, which is also used by the militants.

During his visit to Washington earlier this month, Mr Iqbal advised the embassy to negotiate a fresh deal with the United States for reacquiring helicopters for his ministry.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2017

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