YESTERDAY’S editorial in this paper congratulated several relevant departments across the Pakistani government and military apparatus on their cluelessness reacting to a news report in an English paper, which stated that permission had been “granted” for the “US Army Corps” (of Engineers, later in the article) to “operate from Karachi airport”. Although, it was the wording of the initial report that induced hysteria, once the smelling salts had been passed around the reporting room, a different story came to the fore. To elaborate on the original report, relevant Pakistani officials (who ought to have been) in the know at the ISPR, Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Defence, were contacted for further details. Call after call yielded nothing but polite bemusement, or at times, from the most energetic of respondents, desperate deflection to some other department.

More than 24 hours later, the triumph of incompetence appeared to be complete, with no response whatsoever from any of the departments contacted – but! – luckily, not all involved in the effort to stop narcotics smuggling from Karachi airport were themselves afflicted by a worrying somnolence. US diplomats, perturbed that the report on the project was vastly misrepresentative, hastened forward with information which revealed that the original English press report was indeed susceptible to be misread (as had been the case) given its incomplete nature.

The story goes, “on the request of the Pakistani government”, the US Department of Defence agreed to fund and, for quality control purposes, oversee the building of a 7900 sq ft facility, to provide the Pakistan Customs’ Drug Enfrocement Agency a rapid response mechanism for narcotics smuggling to and from Karachi airport. The structure, which is expected to cost up to $2 million, is to be composed of both, an administration and operations centre; fully staffed, operated and manned by only Pakistani officials upon its completion, which is expected in summer 2014. No US military presence “at all” would be on site, and the facility would be fully owned by the Pakistani government, on whose “request” it was being constructed. Similar projects had been previously supported in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

All well and good. Less drugs in Pakistan; all in support say aye? Wait, not just yet… Granted that the facility is to be operated by Pakistanis – but which Pakistanis? As the stated aim is “to support Pakistani Customs’ fight against narcotics smuggling”, the centre would thus be assumed to be the property of the Pakistan Customs’ Drug Enforcement Cell (DEC). But there is the Anti-Narcotics Force to consider. Not to mention the Civil Aviation Authority. Both of which fall under the purview of the Ministry of Defence. Once completed, the building would be Customs property. As such, it would fall under the control of the Federal Bureau of Revenue, which itself comes under the purview of the Ministry of Finance – not Defence.

Perhaps that would explain the Secretary Defence’s affronted reaction upon his summons by the NA’s Standing Committee on Defence. He was forceful in repeating that the Ministry of Defence knew nothing about the possibility of a $2 million facility being planned, to be handed over to the Customs’ Drug Enforcement Cell upon completion and that the US Army Corps of Engineers had not been allowed by the Ministry of Defence to build any sort of facility at any civilian airport, nor would they be allowed to and that explanations had been sought from both, Pakistani and US officials. So, there. Well, at the time of going to print, US officials had received no notification of cancellation of any project. It appears the prize is still up for grabs. As anyone who knows the story of Balochistan is aware, there’s a killing to be made in customs. And hence, the power of nightmares, to guarantee that only the truly deserving are in charge of the new customs facility at Karachi airport.