Pak seeks new US deal after returning 9 military choppers

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Islamabad, Oct 1: Pakistan is seeking a new deal with the US for acquiring an unspecified number of helicopters for anti-narcotics operations after returning nine military choppers it had received in 2002, a media report said today. Pakistan today returned five of the nine Huey II helicopters it had received almost 15 years ago. The ministry of interior, which was using the aircraft, had returned four of these nine rotary-wing helicopters on October 15. Pakistan had received a total of 12 aircraft, including three fixed-wing Cessna airplanes, from the US for anti- narcotics operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan, the Dawn reported. 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, the daily said. Primary purpose of the aircraft, however, was to monitor smuggling of narcotics as the region is connected to a major drug-route. 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 US 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 yesterday, 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. Diplomatic sources were quoted as saying by the Dawn that it should not be difficult to do so as both American and Pakistani officials acknowledge a direct link between narcotics and terrorism financing and 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 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, Iqbal advised the embassy to negotiate a fresh deal with the US for reacquiring helicopters for his ministry.