Pakistan Air Force threatens to shoot down US drones

A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone takes off from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan March 9, 2016. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 08 December 2017
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Pakistan Air Force threatens to shoot down US drones

ISLAMABAD: The head of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, has warned that US drones violating the country’s airspace will be shot down, marking a significant shift in Pakistan’s US policy.
Aman was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Air Tech Conference and Techno Show in Islamabad on Thursday evening.
“We will protect the sovereignty of the country at any cost,” he said, adding that Pakistan is working on its own unmanned drones and that a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be manufactured in the next 18 months.
The US has been carrying out drone strikes on militants inside Pakistani territory since June 2004, initially from air bases inside Pakistan. When relations soured in 2011, the US was forced to shift its drone bases across the border to Afghanistan.
Successive Pakistani governments have publicly condemned the drone strikes, but experts have said that there was a tacit agreement in place between America and Pakistan to allow the strikes to take place.
Sen. Nuzhat Sadiq, chairperson of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that Pakistan has effectively eliminated terrorists and militants from its territory through various military operations so there is no need for US drones now.
“It is the policy of the government not to allow any more US drone strikes on our soil, and the air chief has effectively conveyed it to the Americans,” she said.
Sadiq said that Pakistan is a nuclear state and could not allow any country to violate its sovereignty. “We are on a strong footing now, and introducing viable changes in our foreign policy toward the US,” she said.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US has carried out a total of 429 drone strikes inside Pakistan since June 2004, killing 2,938 people, including civilians.
The most recent strike inside Pakistani territory was on Sept. 15 in Kurram Agency, on the border with Afghanistan, in which three people were killed.
Aziz Ahmad Khan, an expert on foreign affairs and former diplomat, told Arab News that Pakistan would not need to shoot down any US drones as the “matter has already been settled with the Americans in some recent high-level meetings.”
“The number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has already reduced significantly and we hope to get rid of this counterproductive menace forever,” he added.
Retired Gen. Talat Masood, a defense analyst, told Arab News that Pakistan has explained to the US that Pakistan will no longer be used as a base for terrorist attacks in neighboring countries as it has eliminated all the militants’ “safe havens.”
“The air chief’s statement is a message to the US that it should cooperate with Pakistan to fight against militancy, instead of carrying out unilateral drone attacks in Pakistan,” he said.
He warned, however, that the government should be prepared for repercussions from the US, as “the superpower is not going to digest this change in policy easily.”


Cuba ends medical exchange program with Brazil

In this Aug. 30, 2013 file photo, Cuban doctors observe a dental procedure during a a training session at a health clinic in Brasilia, Brazil. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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Cuba ends medical exchange program with Brazil

  • The Brazilian Ministry of Health said there were 8,332 Cuban doctors in Brazil, each costing the country roughly $3,100 a month, plus room and board
  • Bolsonaro said Brazil would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil

HAVANA: Cuba said Wednesday that it is ending a program that sent thousands of government doctors to underserved regions of Brazil in exchange for hundreds of millions in badly needed hard currency.
The end of the “Mas Medicos,” or “More Doctors,” program signals a sharp deterioration in relations between communist Cuba and Brazil, which just elected far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. He takes office Jan. 1.
Cuba made the announcement after Bolsonaro said the program overseen by the World Health Organization could only continue if doctors directly received their salaries from Brazil, and were able to bring their families with them during their assignments, among other conditions.
The Cuban government generally keeps most of the salaries of state employees working abroad as part of the socialist state’s “international missions.” Participants also are generally barred from bringing family members in a measure that critics say is designed to prevent doctors from emigrating.
“Mas Medicos” started five years ago under leftist President Dilma Rousseff. Cuba said roughly 20,000 doctors saw millions of patients in areas such as the Amazon rainforest and slums of major cities.
Cuba maintains similar missions in 67 other countries but “Mas Medicos” was one of the largest and most important, serving as a link between the cash-strapped island and South America’s largest economy.
“Cubans have provided a valuable service to the Brazilian people with dignity, deep sensitivity, professionality, dedication and altruism,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter. “Such humane acts should be respected and defended.”
All Cuban doctors work for the state and virtually all receive salaries that are well below $100 a month. Doctors are not permitted to leave Cuba without government permission, a control that was lifted for virtually all other Cubans five years ago.
Thousands of Cuban doctors work in the island’s public health-care system, which suffers from crumbling infrastructure but still provides free and universal health care to all citizens. Thousands of other Cuban doctors go abroad each year and generate billions of dollars for the state, one of Cuba’s most important sources of foreign exchange.
The doctors generally receive a fraction of the salary paid to the Cuban government. But even that fraction far exceeds the salaries of doctors working in Cuba. That drives many doctors to complete foreign missions in order to earn cash for important expenses like home repairs, appliances or a motor vehicle.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health said there were 8,332 Cuban doctors in Brazil, each costing the country roughly $3,100 a month, plus room and board.
Bolsonaro said Brazil would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil.
“This is slave labor,” he said. “We couldn’t be accomplices.”
Neither side said exactly when the Cuban doctors would be leaving but their departure comes at a bad time for Cuba, which is facing its third year of slow growth, expected to be around 1 percent this year. Productivity is low in virtually every state-run industry, tourism has slowed under the Trump administration and Venezuela, a key ally, has cut back on subsidized oil and other aid.
Nonetheless, Bolsonaro’s conditions were out of the question for Cuba.
“It’s not acceptable to question the dignity, professionalism and altruism of Cubans who, with the support of their families, provide services in 67 countries,” the Cuban health ministry said in a statement. “The Brazilian people will understand who bears the responsibility for the fact that our doctors can’t keep providing their support and solidarity in that nation.”