6 October 2015

Short History of U.S. Cold War Listening Post at Peshawar, Pakistan

History of PAF Badaber

Ali Ashraf Khan, Pakistan Observer (Karachi)

October 5, 2015

Monday, October 05, 2015 - Badaber has a long history connected to the US- Pakistani military relations. It was called ‘Camp Badaber’ in 1959 when it served as CIA - United States Air Force Security Service listening post (Communication base) mainly as a spying centre during the cold war against the Soviet Union. Ultimately, America had to vacate the base in July 1970 after its failure to get the agreement renewed amidst increased anti-US public sentiments, especially after the 1965 Indo-Pak war and US arms embargo on Pakistan. The US hold over Badaber was a result of a communication agreement that was negotiated by the US and signed in 1957 by Prime Minister Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy with Gen. Iskander Mirza as President. 

The Pakistani government at that time was hoping for US diplomatic help with regard to a resolution of the Kashmir conflict. The agreement included the American use of Badaber base as a spying station and of Pakistani air space and a portion of Peshawar airport for spying flights by the famous U2 spy plane designed to carry out aerial reconnaissance. When in 1958 Ayub Khan came to power as a result of a military coup he strengthened Pakistan’s military and economic alliance with the US against the Soviet Union who was eying on India to become their strategic partner against US. Pakistan’s policy for a short while led to major economic aid from the US and Europe.

Camp Badaber started operating in 1958. It grew into a small American town that was called “little US” with a population of 800 personnel at the air base and an additional 500 support personnel for cooking, medical care, teachers etc. It was equipped apart from administration buildings, barracks and dining hall with elaborate leisure facilities like a movie theatre, and a gym. Later construction added a bowling alley, golf course, dependent living, and school. These facilities are still there and used by the Pakistan Airforce and their families. In 1960s Badaber drew international attention when one of the U2 spy planes flown by CIA pilot Gary Powers was shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air missile and crashed near Sverdlovsk. The pilot survived and was captured as were the photos that had been taken by the pilot. 

The incident became a major embarrassment for the US when they had to admit to spying and a wake-up call for their air force that was not aware of the Russian military capabilities. Powers was indicted and convicted in a Russian court and later exchanged for a Russian imprisoned in the US. It was after the infamous U2 incident took place and after a Red Circle was placed on Peshawar city on Pakistan’s map by Nikita Khrushchev that predestined Pakistan into an open hostility with the USSR that gave a three day ultimatum to cancel this agreement with the US or be prepared for the consequences. 

President Ayub Khan on the advice of Bhutto cancelled this agreement with US and asked them to vacate Badaber base. Later US President Johnson and others had tried utmost to get this communication agreement revived but it was not done as long as Ayub Khan remained in power. 

Among others the U2 incident is an unfortunate legacy of the past in the relations between Pakistan and Russia that Pakistan is working hard even today to overcome. An interesting incident happened in same period was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was acting foreign minister in Ayub’s government; He planned a tour of Peshawar and conveyed his desire to arrange a visit to Badaber Base as well.

The Commissioner Peshawar contacted the Base Commander to inform about the forthcoming inspection visit to base of our acting foreign minister but the Base Commander immediately communicated with Pentagon and informed the Commissioner that we will receive Mr. Bhutto in the Cafeteria where he can enjoy our hospitality over a cup of coffee with sandwiches only but not see the installations inside the base. When Bhutto was informed he cancelled his program under protest that was also conveyed to the Base Commander by Commissioner Peshawar.


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