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January 2005
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Indo-Pak Relations

A proposed weapons system sale by U.S. to Pakistan demonstrates yet again that foreign policies of nations remain notoriously grounded in the quid pro quo basis, and not much else.

By Ashish Kumar Sen

A proposed sale of U.S. defense equipment to Pakistan is threatening to become a thorn in the side of a blossoming U.S.-India relationship.

Indian officials have been warning the Bush administration against the sale saying it could endanger the peace process between New Delhi and Islamabad and may also cost the U.S. Indian goodwill.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stopped over in New Delhi on Dec. 9 to allay some of these concerns. In his meetings with senior government officials, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the defense secretary was informed of India's apprehensions about "the repercussions of U.S. arms supply on the ongoing India-Pakistan dialogue currently poised at a sensitive juncture," said an Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesman.

Mr. Rumsfeld assured the officials that Washington "did not envisage relations with India and Pakistan as a zero-sum game and it was a U.S. objective to have good relations with both countries," the spokesman said.

On Nov. 16, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a possible sale to Pakistan of six PHALANX Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 2,000 TOW-2A missiles, 14 TOW-2A Fly-to-Buy missiles and eight P-3C aircraft with T-56 engines as well as associated equipment and services.

Noting this development, India's External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh told members of Parliament in New Delhi on the eve of Mr. Rumsfeld's visit that his government had "expressed our strong concern over this move at very high levels of the U.S. government."

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli maintained there was "no contradiction between having strong relations with India and meeting the defense needs of other countries through the sale of U.S. arms."

The United States' arms policy was "governed by U.S. interests and congressional legislation," he explained. "There should be no question that you can have good relations with one country and sell arms to another country. It's not a mutually exclusive proposition, and nor should it be."

Sunil Khilnani, director of the South Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said India should "react coolly, making clear its displeasure, but not really making a big issue of it."

"It doesn't really threaten us, especially if we get the Patriot systems," he added.

The Bush administration has also offered top-of-the-line military hardware to India including the Patriot anti-missile system, C-130 stretched medium lift transport aircraft and P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes.

According to the DSCA notification, the proposed sale to Pakistan will contribute to "the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be a key ally in the global war on terrorism."

However, New Delhi is concerned this sophisticated weaponry could end up being used against India.

"Weapon systems such as F-16s are ? inherently unsuitable for employment in counter-insurgency operations on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. And like it happened with the transfer of U.S. arms to Pakistan during the era of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, such weapons will ultimately be deployed against India," cautioned Anupam Srivastava, co-director of the South Asia Program at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.

New Delhi is particularly concerned about the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.

Mr. Khilnani said the sale of the fighter jets is "very likely to be announced soon."

"We're talking about a sale made long ago, and this is merely the delivery of these planes - it is debatable to what extent it is really militarily significant," he said. "The timing is curious, but I suppose Bush feels he has to reward [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf."

Ambassador Teresita C. Schaffer, director for South Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the F-16s are "symbolically very important" to Pakistan. "The Pakistani F-16 fleet has suffered from lack of spares and replacements, but mostly, it's because that was the big sale that was blocked in 1990."

In 1990, Washington halted the delivery of 28 F-16s it had previously promised to Pakistan, citing Islamabad's inability to meet U.S. requirements that it did not have a "nuclear explosive device." In 1998, Pakistan tested its nuclear bomb. Pakistan was later reimbursed for the undelivered jets.

In New Delhi, Mr. Natwar Singh told his colleagues in Parliament the Bush administration had assured his government "no decision [on the F-16s] has been taken and is not imminent."

In Washington, an Indian Embassy official said the Bush administration "has told us that as far as F-16s are concerned ? that particular part of the arms package is still on the table."

While the DSCA notification assured members of the U.S. Congress the sale of defense equipment to Pakistan would not affect the basic military balance in the region, recent comments from leaders in the South Asian nuclear armed rivals have stirred speculation about an arms race.

On a recent visit to Washington, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, in an interview with CNN, said: "We [Pakistan] want a balance - a balance in our region to be maintained in the conventional weapons. Now, in that balance, there is some imbalance which is being created because of the purchases being done by the Indian forces."

In New Delhi, Mr. Natwar Singh warned "that in case of U.S. arms supply to Pakistan, the ? government will not hesitate to take steps to ensure that our defense preparedness is not compromised in any way."

An arms race will depend on "two things," said Mrs. Schaffer. "Whether they [India and Pakistan] start making some progress in their peace talks, and money."

"Pakistan's desired purchases come to much more money than the $300 million/year that the U.S. is prepared to finance under its aid package. Pakistan has not tried to match India's increases in the defense budget, but there's always an element of competition," she said.

The proposed sale of major weapons systems to both India and Pakistan "will certainly augment their strategic war-fighting capabilities, but not dramatically alter the force balance in the region," said Mr. Srivastava. "Although the sale of F-16s will, in part, enable Pakistan to overcome the imbalance in conventional forces with India."

On the other hand, he added, "the Pentagon has determined that if supply of major armaments, including F-16s, is what will be critical to securing Pakistani support on the Afghani front, then such sales should go forward, notwithstanding Indian protests."

Despite concern in New Delhi that this sale would jeopardize India-Pakistan peace talks, analysts don't expect it to have a major impact on the nascent process.

"It is significant for Musharraf to be able to show some tangible achievement to his domestic constituency, but paradoxically it may actually make it easier for him to be more flexible on Kashmir," Mr. Khilnani said.

Mrs. Schaffer noted that India will be unhappy with the U.S. if it concludes a major transaction with Pakistan, "but India will make its decision on peace talks with Pakistan based on its interests in Pakistan, not based on any pique with the U.S."

Similarly, she added, "Pakistan will not be happy if the U.S. makes major sales to India, but that won't prevent Pakistan from trying to get as much as it can out of the U.S. relationship."


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