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Home / India / Dangerous liaisons

Dangerous liaisons

In light of Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister, Z A Bhutto’s claim that his country was prepared to do whatever it took to acquire nuclear weapons, news that Pakistan has tampered with the US-made Harpoon missiles and P-3C Orion maritime aircraft for land attack capability should surprise no one — least of all the US, as this is not the first time Pakistan has done so, writes Thomas Mathew.

india Updated: Sep 11, 2009, 08:36 IST
Thomas Mathew
Thomas Mathew

In light of Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister, Z A Bhutto’s claim that his country was prepared to do whatever it took to acquire nuclear weapons, news that Pakistan has tampered with the US-made Harpoon missiles and P-3C Orion maritime aircraft for land attack capability should surprise no one — least of all the US, as this is not the first time Pakistan has done so.

Graver instances in the past include the altering of F-16 aircraft to carry n-weapons, in a clear violation of the US Arms Export Control Act. What’s perturbing is not that Pakistan is tampering with weapons in its armoury, but that the US continues to arm Pakistan in a manner that’s reminiscent of the Cold War, contributing to an arms race in the subcontinent.

During the Cold War, the US may have had some justification for its supplies to Pakistan, which provided it with important bases and listening posts to spy on the erstwhile USSR, besides being party to a series of US security pacts, and was a vital link in Washington’s schemes to encircle the USSR. But the Cold War is history now, and India and the US are forging closer military ties. The signing of the India-US Defence Framework Agreement has taken the relationship almost to the level of an alliance. Also, the US might soon replace Russia as our largest defence supplier.

With Indo-US relations improving, it is discouraging that Washington continues to supply Pakistan with weapons that have little relevance in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but are most suited and likely to be used against India. These include the P-3C Orion maritime aircraft, AN/TPS-77 surveillance radars, F-16 aircraft with laser-guided bomb kits and the Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Serving US officials have testified that the Pakistanis have “focused most of their equipment acquisitions” against India and not on strengthening their counter-insurgency capability.

Yet, since 9/11, Pakistan has been the beneficiary of large-scale US military aid. In 2002-09, such overt assistance alone totalled around $10.94 billion. The Obama administration has proposed US$ 2.49 billion for 2010, an increase of nearly 26 per cent over the current year. The present US arms aid would strengthen Pakistan’s conventional balance of power against India and also augment its nuclear weapons delivery capability through the transfer of more F-16 aircraft.

The US is also ‘dramatically’ increasing its economic aid to Pakistan, even as the latter has an appalling record of diverting non-military aid for military purposes, amounting to around 80 per cent of the $11.8 billion. Despite this, Washington is considering tripling its non-military aid to Islamabad to $7.5 billion over the next five years. An earlier version of the Bill had sought to make US aid contingent on Pakistan adhering to important benchmarks to discourage the misuse of Washington’s assistance; and the dropping of these conditions even provoked the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Panel, Howard Berman, to remark that the bailout plan for the American International Group had more onerous conditions than the Bill on US aid to Pakistan!

Under these circumstances, New Delhi’s quest for US arms could prove costly, as this would only benefit US defence companies. Worse still, increasing dependence on US arms, and critical spares, could stymie any military options in the future that might not have Washington’s blessings. Thus, India needs to move cautiously till Washington exhibits more sensitivity to the security concerns of its new-found strategic partner.

Thomas Mathew is Deputy Director-General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

The views expressed by the author are personal

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