Lahore, May 12 : During Australian Defence Minister Angus Houston's recent visit to Islamabad, the Pakistan government reportedly urged him to provide unmanned surveillance aircraft and train its defence personnel to help it patrol its 2400-km border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan's porous border with Afghanistan is increasingly seen as a key to success in the war being waged by NATO forces against insurgents from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The border cuts through the traditional mountains of the Pashtun people, who have had thousands of years of experience fighting foreign invaders.
The Pakistani officers were particularly keen to obtain the "Scan Eagle" pilot-less reconnaissance aircraft built in Australia, the Daily Times quoted Houston as saying in an interview with 'The Age'.
The tiny aircraft is fitted with cameras that can be used day and night, and has proven successful when used by Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It provides a very effective way to see what's on the other side of the hill without getting your head shot off," the paper quoted a veteran Aussie soldier as saying.
Australian Air Chief Marshal Houston said that because Afghanistan was landlocked, Australia relied heavily on sea, air and land access through Pakistan for its troops and equipment. "For a long time, they've been a very important partner in our endeavours in Afghanistan," he said, and added Pakistani authorities had to try to control a long border in rugged country with crossing points used constantly since colonial times.
They had five army divisions along the border and had suffered heavy casualties fighting extremists there, he added.