A WikiLeaks cable, which NDTV has exclusive access to, says Pakistan's airmen were being radicalised and were sabotaging Pakistani F-16s deployed for security operations along the Afghan border. (Read Cable: Pakistan cable on visiting US officials being briefed on F-16s)
The cable, sent in March 2006 from the US embassy to Washington, quotes Pakistan's then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Khalid Chaudhry, as saying that the airmen, most of whom came from rural villages, were being radicalised by extremist Islamic clerics. The cable quotes AVM Chaudhry as saying, "You can't imagine what a hard time we have trying to get to trim their beards." The cable notes that, "This last comment refers to the tradition of conservative Muslims to grow full beards as a sign of piety."
The cable also says that Chaudhry claimed "to receive reports monthly of acts of petty sabotage, which he interpreted as an effort by Islamists amongst the enlisted ranks to prevent PAF aircraft from being deployed in support of security operations in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Afghan border."
Chaudhry was briefing visiting US officials at the Pakistan Air Force Headquarters and impressing upon them the need to ensure "the F-16 deal has enough sweeteners to appeal to the public - a complete squadron of new F-16s, with JDAM and night-vision capability - but not to offer the PAF things that it cannot afford." Pakistan was in talks with the US to buy F-16 fighter aircraft and the US had voiced security concerns.
The cable quotes Chaudhry as telling the delegation, "off the record", that PAF aircraft were regularly called to provide air support to military and security forces when they get into tight spots in the FATA... "dryly adding that Army brass and the ground forces commanders would deny it."