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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 September 2005, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Unravelling the spin on a toy plane
By Jannat Jalil
BBC News, Islamabad

Drone in Peshawar
The army puts the "spy plane" on display
The Pakistani army recently announced it had destroyed an al-Qaeda base in the remote north-western tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where it is thought Osama Bin Laden might be hiding.

The army took journalists to North Waziristan to show them the results of its military offensive - but, our correspondent says, the media offensive was not a complete success.

It was a display designed to impress.

On the manicured lawn at the army camp in Peshawar, our first stop, piles of weaponry were neatly lined up on a long white-clothed table.

Anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, Kalashnikovs.

Just some of the huge amount of weapons, the army said, it had seized during its offensive in North Waziristan.

There were mortars, ammunition - and a bright yellow model plane.

Explosives

Had some child left his toy here by mistake? Apparently not.

Weapons on show in Peshawar, Pakistan
Initial claims of the al-Qaeda raid later proved unimpressive

This, said the commander, was a Chinese-made, remote-controlled spy plane which had been used by militants to spy on army positions.

It is bright yellow I said. Their reply, that does not matter if it is used at night.

Several journalists asked how such a flimsy looking thing could carry a camera?

Not just a camera was the response from one general.

This plane could be used to drop up to one kilogram of explosives.

The plane itself looked like it weighed less than that.

Stink bombs I could believe, but not explosives.

Pressure

But the Pakistani army bristles when anyone tries to question what it is doing.

As the army flew us by helicopter to North Waziristan, we could get a sense of just how difficult its job is.

We passed mountain after mountain, some covered in large forests

The task of locating al-Qaeda and Taleban suspects in this vast region is made all the harder by the fact that many locals strongly resent the army presence.

Until three years ago, Pakistani soldiers had never ventured into the semi-autonomous tribal regions.

But under pressure from the US and Afghanistan to root out al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters, they have carried out a number of military operations, especially in South Waziristan, which have resulted in heavy casualties.

Journalists - even Pakistani ones - are not allowed into this remote area, except on occasions like this, when the military wants to trumpet another success against al-Qaeda.

Initial claims of the al-Qaeda raid later proved unimpressive. The captured fighters, described as important figures and foreigners, turned out to be Afghans.

The army could not even tell us if they were Taleban and did not produce them for us to see.

And the al-Qaeda base that had been destroyed turned out to be the compound of a madrassa or religious school that has been raided several times.

'Misconceptions'

Journalists asked the commander of the operation, Lt-Gen Safdar Hussein, if its timing had anything to do with the fact that President Pervez Musharraf was attending the UN summit in New York.

Pakistani troops near Miran Shah, Waziristan
The al-Qaeda base raided turned out to be a madrassa

Safdar Hussein is a bluff, no-nonsense general.

He is as proud of his troops as he is suspicious of the media, which he accuses of creating misconceptions about Pakistan.

He said when he announced this operation he had not even known what date Gen Musharraf was flying to the US.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt the Pakistani army has been coming under intense pressure to show it is committed to combating Islamic militancy.

Especially from its neighbour, Afghanistan, which accuses Pakistan of providing a refuge for Taleban fighters.

Here, in briefing after briefing, general after general bombards us with figures about how many troops are patrolling the border, how many militants have been killed or captured, how many more border posts Pakistan has than Afghanistan.

They point out that more than 250 Pakistani troops have died in counter-terrorism operations since 2001.

But all this still does not satisfy the Afghans.

So in frustration, Pakistan has now proposed building a fence along parts of the border - a border that cuts through some of the world's most imposing mountain ranges, and parts of which are still disputed by Afghanistan.

This idea may seem as likely as a bright yellow toy plane being used to spy on army positions, but the Pakistanis say they are deadly serious.

Upon my return to Islamabad I went to a toy shop.

There was the exact same plane, the same model - even the same, bright yellow colour. The price about $55. Who would have thought a spy plane could be so cheap.




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