A Day for Reflection
By Dr. Shireen M. Mazari

There is general euphoria in Pakistan over the US decision to sell F-16s to the country. General Musharraf has stated that acquiring the state-of-the-art platforms will enhance “the offensive punch of our defense”. The F-16s will undoubtedly be a major force multiplier for us, revamping our air force capabilities in an age where air power has really come into its own and new types of warfare are evolving.
However, one must look at the matter more guardedly because Pakistan will have to cross many hurdles before the F-16s make their way into the PAF. After all, we have been down this path before where we paid our dues and waited expectantly. So what happened? The US producers effectively kept most of our money and eventually we got lumped with wheat and soya beans. Worse, we had to pay parking charges for those F-16s while waiting for the US Government to change its mind.
So what is so different this time? Yes, we are the frontline state in the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan but that will not last forever. After all, we were the frontline state in the war to rid Afghanistan of its Soviet invaders, when Pakistan paid for the first F-16s. But before we could get the whole paid-for consignment, the ground realities altered in the region and the US reneged on its commitment. The nuclear issue was the pretext then and, given how the WMD issue is evolving, it may prove to be the excuse to renege on the commitment once again.
The Indians certainly seem to think so, judging by their international diplomatic blitzkrieg against Pakistan on the nuclear proliferation issue. Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh fired the latest salvo in this regard with his allegation that the world powers are turning a blind eye to nuclear commerce in South Asia, adversely impacting India’s security. This logic is truly absurd, but Mr Singh forgot that the international community has also ignored India’s role in Iran’s nuclear development.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (March 24) recalls several visits to Iran by Indian scientist Prasad in 2002 when, according to the US State Department, he illegally passed nuclear secrets to the Iranian government. The State Department also alleged that another Indian nuclear scientist, Chaudhary Surendar, provided Tehran with technology that “could make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction”. No matter how much pussy footing the US does, India is clearly linked to the Iranian nuclear program. So why has the IAEA not demanded any equipment inspection from India? Surely this must be the blind eye the international community is turning on the nuclear issue on South Asia. Mr Singh should thank his stars, since India has been spared the scathing international scrutiny it deserves on the proliferation issue. One wonders what our decision makers are doing keeping silent on this when they have shot from the hip on the A.Q.Khan issue?
In any event, India’s niggardly attitude towards Pakistan on the issue of arms supplies from the US will be a major factor in the whole F-16 purchase. The first major hurdle will be Congressional approval and anyone who thinks the new Pakistan-India detente will prevent India from lobbying against the deal is living in a fool’s paradise. Indian objections were voiced even at the mere announcement of the deal. One should expect the extremely powerful Indian lobby to begin its work on Capitol Hill; this will test the Bush Administration’s degree of political commitment towards Pakistan.
It is strange that while we are going out of our way to cozy up to the Indians, India continues to maintain a belligerent posture towards Pakistan on critical issues. Cricket diplomacy clearly has, at best, a limited value as was apparent when the military dictator Gen. Zia was busy on that front. What happened then? Siachin and incursions into Chor Batla and Qamar sectors along the LoC. In other words, India violated, with impunity, the 1972 Simla Agreement and the LoC that it agreed to.
If by some miracle we actually get Congressional approval for the F-16s sale, the true military worth of these planes will depend on two main factors. First, what they actually have in terms of avionics and weapons systems. Two, what India acquires from the US, apart from F-16s and F-18s. The first will apparently be negotiated in discussions between Pakistan and the USA, so we can only hope we get updated planes and not just outmoded avionics of the eighties that are now part of children’s computer games. The second issue is particularly important. The F-18s, which are specifically for aircraft carriers, will be a major force multiplier for India against Pakistan because they will allow India access to targets in the interior of Pakistan through the sea route. More critical is the sale of the Patriot missile system to India. This is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defense system that effectively counters not only missiles but also advanced aircraft. The Bush Administration has, in principle, agreed to sell the PAC-2 system as part of the Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP -- the same acronym as the National Security Strategy Paper of the US!) agreement between the US and India. The PAC-2 system has been upgraded by the manufacturer, Raytheon, with the development of the Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM-T). Even before we acquire the new F-16s, the Indians are being provided with weapon systems that nullify the military advantage for us of these planes.
So why would the Indians make such a fuss? Because they have a compulsion to ensure that Pakistan remains vulnerable militarily in the conventional field. More important, they are hoping to detract Pakistan from objecting to the lethal systems the US is providing to India -- systems that directly destabilize the nuclear deterrence in South Asia and lower the nuclear threshold. And, true to form, we have barely whimpered any protest on the US decisions to sell the new weapon systems to India.
An additional problem linked to the F-16 purchase will remain the matter of supply of spares. This issue held us hostage in the 1965 war with India and it has been a constant headache for our military since the various embargoes imposed by the US. So what will be the US position on the supply of spares this time? Will there be any guarantees on this point?
Finally, if the US Administration pursues our case in Congress with commitment, what would be the political asking price from Pakistan? What will be the political and military price, in addition to the monetary price, that Pakistan will pay for the F-16s? Will we again pay it before all the planes are delivered? So before we see the Bush Administration’s decision on the F-16s as a “success of our foreign policy”, let us see how the issue evolves over time. We have been burnt before.
(The writer is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. - Courtesy The News)


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